2,000-year-old lemur's little finger poses mystery

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Washington, March 20 : The analysis of the first hand bones of a lemur that lived 2,000 years ago has revealed a never-before-seen hand joint configuration on the side of its little finger. iscovered in 2003 in a cave in southeastern Madagascar, the bones belong to a lemur known as Hadropithecus stenognathus, who is related to the modern-day sifaka, a type of lemur with acrobatic leaping skills.

After analyzing the five tiny hand bones of the lemur, Pierre Lemelin, an assistant professor of anatomy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and a team of fellow American researchers, found a never-before-seen hand joint configuration on the side of the animal's little finger. he same joint configuration is straight in all other primates, including Archaeolemur, a close extinct relative of Hadropithecus.

"Our analysis showed a mosaic of lemurid-like, monkey-like and very unique morphological traits," said Lemelin.

"Because the joint was present on both hands, it's likely not an anomaly, but because there are no other Hadropithecus hand bones for comparison, we don't know for certain," he added.

Lemelin and his colleagues from George Washington University, the Medical College of Georgia, and the universities of Stony Brook and Massachusetts at Amherst, also discovered that, unlike its close living relatives, Hadropithecus lacked anatomical traits linked with wrist mobility and strong finger flexion that characterize primate species that climb or cling to trees.

The hand bones also showed that Hadropithecus had very short thumbs and was a quadrupedal species, walking on all fours, much like many primates, such as baboons, do today.

"The discovery underscores the amazing diversity of lemurs that existed more than 2,000 years ago, when lemurs of all types ranged from pocket-sized to the size of gorillas," said Lemelin.

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