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52 million years ago, Canada’s Arctic was home to pre-primates, paleontologists say Pipa News

52 million years ago, Canada’s Arctic was home to preprimates, paleontologists say

On Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, winter temperatures often drop below -40°C. 52 million years ago, it was a hot and swampy forest where primitive relatives of primates thrived, according to a new study.

“Imagine a crossbreed between a lemur and a squirrel that’s about half the size of your house cat,” said Chris Beard, a professor of paleontology at the University of Kansas.

Researchers studying tooth and bone fragments collected from five different locations on the Arctic island since the 1970s concluded that the fossils belong to a group of mammals called Ignaciuspreviously known from a species found in the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming to Alberta.

Beard said it’s great to find these two new sister species – Ignacius Mackennai and l. dawsonae – on Ellesmere Island. He says it’s an advance in our understanding of these primitive primate relatives.

His team’s work was published in the journal PLOS One.

When these animals lived in the Eocene 52 million years ago, the world was a much warmer place. Various primate species lived all over the world, including many places where they no longer exist today, including northern China, the Saskatchewan plains of North America, and even the British Isles and mainland Europe.

“The Eocene might not have been ‘Planet of the Apes,’ but it was definitely the Planet of the Primates,” Beard said. Peculiarities and Quarks Host, Bob McDonald.

This is now extinct Ignacius Branch on the primate family tree likely diverged from the main stem that led to all living primates just before lemurs diverged from the branch that led to great apes, great apes, and humans.

“So they have a lot of the traits that living primates have, they don’t have all of them,” Beard described.

Like extinct and modern nonhuman primates, the Ignacius Lived only in tropical or subtropical regions. They differed from modern primates in having claws instead of nails and eyes on the side of their heads instead of the front.

The lemur on display here at Rome Zoo is one of the closest living relatives of the primate species that used to live on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.
The lemur exhibited here at Rome Zoo is one of the closest living relatives of the primate species that lived on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic 52 million years ago. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

A warm but harsh environment

Because the planet was much warmer then than it is now, these animals were able to colonize areas as far away as Ellesmere Island. But while they didn’t have to deal with extreme cold, they still would have had to deal with darkness for six months.

“The tropical fruits that Ignacius would normally eat in the summer, daylight is not available during this long winter,” Beard said.

He said there are two ways mammals can survive in such a harsh, meager environment. One is to hibernate, which no known primate species has done before. The other option would be to rely on what he called “fallback food.”

“These are foods that are definitely not your first choice. It’s not your favorite item on the menu, but it’s something you eat to survive,” Beard explained. He says these foods likely contain nuts and seeds.

Meet the Gastornis, a giant flightless bird that also roamed present-day Nunavut munching nuts and seeds over 50 million years ago. (Illustration by Marlin Peterson/University of Colorado Boulder)

Expect six months of darkness

This hypothesis was supported by features the researchers discovered on the fossil jawbones and teeth.

Beard said the major muscles that control chewing were more advanced in these animals compared to fossils of related species living in the Rocky Mountains at the same time.

“The biomechanical effect is that it increases the bite forces that can be generated between your upper and lower teeth,” Beard said.

The surface shape of their teeth also became more robust, which together with the adaptations the researchers saw in their jaws suggest they evolved the ability to eat really hard foods like nuts and seeds.

“The nuts and seeds could be kept in a small food supply that would get them through that long winter, so that was their backup food and probably the trick they did.” Ignacius to survive in the Arctic.”

Ellesmere Island is barren and one of Canada's iciest regions, freezing every winter.  52 million years ago during the Eocene it was warm and muggy.
Ellesmere Island is barren and one of Canada’s iciest regions, freezing every winter. 52 million years ago during the Eocene it was warm and muggy. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

These adaptations, Beard says, could be a sign of what’s in store for other animals as the Arctic warms from burning fossil fuels.

“We will colonize the Arctic with new types of organisms [as the climate heats up]. Some of these organisms, given enough time, will develop their own unique adaptations in the same way Ignacius turned his teeth into his jaws.”

Produced and Written by Buy Sonya


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