Skeletal remains of a diminutive primate from the Paleocene of Germany

Gerhard Storch
Die Naturwissenschaften 2008, 95 (10): 927-30
Most living mammal orders, including our own, started their career during the first 10 million years of the Cenozoic, the Age of Mammals. The fossil record documents that early Paleogene adaptive radiations of various clades included tiny species of the size of living shrews. Remains of particularly diminutive limb bones are described from the late Paleocene site of Walbeck, Sachsen-Anhalt. Discovered in 1939, it has remained the only known Paleocene mammal-bearing locality from Germany. The remains are referred to the family Adapisoriculidae, which is considered on the basis of the present postcranial evidence to represent plesiadapiform primates rather than alleged lipotyphlan insectivores as previously proposed. The Walbeck fossils compete with the Early Eocene species Toliapina vinealis from Europe and Picromomys petersonorum from North America for the status of the smallest known primate, fossil and living. Their estimated body weights are as small as 10 g. The limb bones show features related to enhanced flexion at the elbow and hip joint, suggesting arboreal habits and environments such as terminal branches. The diminutive size and tooth morphology suggest feeding on small insects and other invertebrates. Postcranials are important to assess early radiations, such tiny specimens as the present ones are extremely scarce in the fossil record, however.

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