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Re: Darwin's young dead pet from Messel
A new 47MY old primate from Messel Pit: Darwinia messelae [sic], in
honor of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday.
Franzen JL, Gingerich PD, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, von Koenigswald W, et
al. 2009 Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in
Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5723.
The best European locality for complete Eocene mammal skeletons is Grube
Messel, near Darmstadt, Germany. Although the site was surrounded by a
para-tropical rain forest in the Eocene, primates are remarkably rare
there, and only eight fragmentary specimens were known until now. Messel
has now yielded a full primate skeleton. The specimen has an unusual
history: it was privately collected and sold in two parts, with only the
lesser part previously known. The second part, which has just come to
light, shows the skeleton to be the most complete primate known in the
We describe the morphology and investigate the paleobiology of the
skeleton. The specimen is described as Darwinius masillae n.gen. n.sp.
belonging to the Cercamoniinae. Because the skeleton is lightly crushed
and bones cannot be handled individually, imaging studies are of
particular importance. Skull radiography shows a host of teeth
developing within the juvenile face. Investigation of growth and
proportion suggest that the individual was a weaned and
independent-feeding female that died in her first year of life, and
might have attained a body weight of 650–900 g had she lived to
adulthood. She was an agile, nail-bearing, generalized arboreal
quadruped living above the floor of the Messel rain forest.
Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever
found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the
digestive tract. Study of all these features allows a fairly complete
reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet. Any future study
of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved
in the Darwinius holotype. Of particular importance to phylogenetic
studies, the absence of a toilet claw and a toothcomb demonstrates that
Darwinius masillae is not simply a fossil lemur, but part of a larger
group of primates, Adapoidea, representative of the early haplorhine
A few personal comments on Darwinius and the ICZN:
"Darwinius" is ok, in honor of our preferred evolutionist as told above.
The species name "D. messelae" is based on the Latin name of Messel:
"Masilla = Messel in the Codex of the Lorsch monastery, 800 AD" (p. 5).
But... the singular feminine -ae ending means "messelae" is dedicated to
Miss or Mrs Messela, while the correct species name should have been
"messelensis", the ending -ensis being added to the radical whatever its
gender if it is a locality name.
I would like to know how such a mispelled species name could have been
overlooked at the beginning of the 21st century...