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Picture of the Day

Fossils rewrite the story of lemur origins

Discovered more than half a century ago in Kenya and sitting in museum storage ever since, the roughly 20-million-year-old fossil Propotto leakeyi was long classified as a fruit bat. Now, it's helping researchers rethink the early evolution of lemurs, distant primate cousins of humans that today are only found on the island of Madagascar, some 250 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. The findings could rewrite the story of just when and how they got to the island. In a new study, researchers have re-examined Propotto’s fossilized remains and suggest that the strange creature wasn’t a bat, but an ancient relative of the aye-aye, the bucktoothed nocturnal primate that represents one of the earliest branches of the lemur family tree. The reassessment challenges a long-held view that today’s 100-some lemur species descended from ancestors that made their way to Madagascar in a single wave more than 60 million years ago, becoming some of the first mammals to colonize the island. Instead, the study lends support to the idea that two lineages of lemurs split in Africa before coming to Madagascar. One lineage eventually led to the aye-aye, and the other to all other lemurs. There are no lemurs left on mainland Africa. These ancestors then colonized Madagascar independently, and millions of years later than once believed.

Visit Website | Image credit: David Haring/Duke Lemur Center