Planet Earth

Ancient Monkey Teeth Change Evolutionary Timeline

New research reveals a previously unknown monkey species.

By Gemma TarlachDec 15, 2016 12:00 AM
New research reveals a previously unknown monkey species, Panamacebus transitus, which arrived in North America from South America before the Isthmus of Panama formed. P. transitus likely looked a lot like the modern capuchin monkey. | Florida Museum of Natural History/Kristen Grace

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Seven fossilized monkey teeth discovered in the recent Panama Canal expansion pushed back the North American arrival date of the animals by nearly 18 million years.

Researchers have long thought that some 30 million years ago, monkeys migrated by land bridge or a raft of debris from Africa to South America — and stayed there. They headed north only after the Isthmus of Panama was fully formed, about 3.5 million years ago.

Researcher Jonathan Bloch displays the fossil teeth of the new species, found during the Panama Canal's recent expansion, in a wax jaw. | Florida Museum of Natural History/Kristen Grace

But the fossilized teeth, which belong to the newly described monkey species Panamacebus transitus, predate the Panamanian land bridge by millions of years, according to the team that published the find online in Nature in April.

The 21 million-year-old teeth were found on part of the isthmus that was a peninsula at the time. They suggest a population of P. transitus traveled miles of then-open water between South and North America, perhaps on a raft — the earliest mammals known to have made this intercontinental migration by more than 12 million years.

Sadly, the continent-hopping exploits of P. transitus were probably short-lived: They appear unrelated to any monkeys currently living in the region, indicating the pioneer population died out.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month
Already a subscriber? Log In or Register
1 free articleSubscribe
Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Log In or Register
More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.