AUSTIN, TexasPhysical anthropologist Chris Kirk has announced the discovery of a previously unknown species of fossil primate, Mescalerolemur horneri, in the Devil's Graveyard badlands of West Texas.
Mescalerolemur lived during the Eocene Epoch about 43 million years ago, and would have most closely resembled a small present-day lemur. Mescalerolemur is a member of an extinct primate group the adapiforms that were found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in the Eocene. However, just like Mahgarita stevensi, a younger fossil primate found in the same area in 1973, Mescalerolemur is more closely related to Eurasian and African adapiforms than those from North America.
"These Texas primates are unlike any other Eocene primate community that has ever been found in terms of the species that are represented," says Kirk, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin. "The presence of both Mescalerolemur and Mahgarita, which are only found in the Big Bend region of Texas, comes after the more common adapiforms from the Eocene of North America had already become extinct. This is significant because it provides further evidence of faunal interchange between North America and East Asia during the Middle Eocene."
By the end of the Eocene, primates and other tropically adapted species had all but disappeared from North America due to climatic cooling, so Kirk is sampling the last burst of diversity in North American primates. With its lower latitudes and more equable climate, West Texas offered warm-adapted species a greater chance of survival after the cooling began.
Kirk says Marie Butcher, a then undergraduate who graduated with degrees in anthropology and biology from The University of Texas at Austin, found the first isolated tooth of Mescalerolemur in 2005. Since that time, many more primate fossils have been recovered by Kirk and
|Contact: Chris Kirk |
University of Texas at Austin