Earliest evidence of lemurs discovered in Pakistan, far from their current home, Science reports

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A handful of tiny teeth collected in the Bugti Hills of Pakistan represent the fossil remains of the earliest known lemur, say an international team of researchers in the 19 October issue of the journal Science.

They also represent something of a mystery, since today's lemurs--primate cousins to the monkeys and apes, with a tooth "comb" jutting from their lower jaw--live only on the island of Madagascar. Scientists had previously thought that Africa must have been the birthplace of lemurs, but the new find may turn heads towards a possible Asian origin instead.

The discovery of a lemur fossil on the Indian subcontinent was "totally unexpected," says Science author Laurent Marivaux of the Universit Montpellier in France.

Dubbed Bugtilemur mathesoni, the 30 million year old lemur species provides an extremely rare glimpse into the evolution of strepsirrhine primates, which consist of lemurs and their close relatives, the lorises. Although the strepsirrhines are a diverse group, there is virtually no fossil record for lemurs, making their pre-Madagascar days a paleontological blank slate.

Marivaux, Jean-Jacques Jaeger of Universit Montpellier, and colleagues analyzed anatomical features on Bugtilemur's teeth to determine where it fit into the primate family tree, concluding that it was most closely related to Cheirogaleus, the modern dwarf lemur on Madagascar. Bugtilemur and Cheirogaleus share a specialized dental pattern different from other living lemurs, including other members of the dwarf and mouse lemur family.

The close relationship poses a problem

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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