Thursday, May 25, 2006

Monkeys in the North

CarpolestesVia RSR we learn that a town in Northern Quebec has declared that:
"Here in the North there is no such thing as monkeys."
Of course, some of the earliest fossil ancestors of the primates have been found in North America.

In the Paleocene (roughly 65-55 million years ago), two different families of early primates existed – the Carpolestidae and Plesiadapidae. Carpolestids like the one at the right were arboreal species. That one was found in a block of limestone from Wyoming (PDF).

Now, these weren't necessarily what we'd think of as "monkeys," probably closer to tarsiers, but that hardly excuses Canoodian ignorance.

Interestingly, the blocks of limestone sat in a museum basement for 50 years before scientists found time to get into them and look at the fossils they contained. Once they started digging, they found a number of new species and new parts of species that were previously known.

The graphic below comes from P. D. Gingerich, (1980) "Evolutionary Patterns in Early Cenozoic Mammals," Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 8:407-424, and shows the distribution of various primate species over the period from 46 to 60 million years ago. At that time, the primates in Wyoming were common enough that they can be used to accurately age strata.

Biochronology of primates.