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New fossil primate found in Texas

May 16, 2011 at 8:47 PM   |   Comments

AUSTIN, Texas, May 16 (UPI) -- A fossil from a previously unknown species of primate that lived 43 million years ago has been discovered in the badlands of West Texas, researchers say.

Physical anthropologist Chris Kirk from the University of Texas at Austin said Mescalerolemur lived during the Eocene and would have most closely resembled a small present-day lemur, a university release reported Monday.

Mescalerolemur is a member of the extinct primate group the adapiforms, found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in the Eocene, but was more closely related to Eurasian and African adapiforms than those from North America, Kirk said.

"These Texas primates are unlike any other Eocene primate community that has ever been found in terms of the species that are represented," Kirk said. "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, but West Texas offered warm-adapted species a greater chance of survival after the cooling began, he said.

Fossils of Mescalerolemur indicate it was a small primate, weighing only about 13 ounces, a body weight similar to that of the living greater dwarf lemur.

The new genus has been named Mescalerolemur after the Mescalero Apache, which inhabited the Big Bend region of Texas from about 1700 to 1880.

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