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New Primate: Small Ape with Big Implications

ESF Top 10 New Species of 2016

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  • Pliobates catalonia: Artist’s recreation of the life appearance
    Artwork by Marta Palmero, Institut Catalá de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP)

  • Pliobates catalonia: Virtual reconstruction of the skull in frontal and lateral view.
    Modified from David Alba et al. (215, Science, vol. 350, aab2625, Fig.3)

  • Pliobates catalonia: Artist’s recreation of the skull in frontal and lateral view.
    Artwork by Marta Palmero, Institut Catalá de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP)

About the New Primate

Name: Pliobates cataloniae

Location: Spain

How it made the Top 10: This ape, nicknamed "Laia" by her discoverers, was a small female that lived about 11.6 million years ago in what is now Spain, climbing trees and eating fruit. Fragments of her remains were discovered in a landfill in Catalonia, and she has challenged a lot of assumptions about the origins of, and relations among, living apes, gibbons and humans. It appears she was 4 to 5 kg (roughly 9 to 11 pounds) in weight, suggesting a diminutive height of about 43 cm (17 inches). She lived before the lineage containing humans and great apes had diverged from its sister branch, the gibbons, and she appears to be sister to the three combined. Her discovery suggests greater morphological diversity existed at that time, in the Miocene, than previously thought, and raises the possibility that early humans could have been more closely related to gibbons than the great apes. Her name is a popular Catalan diminutive of the name "Eulàlia," the original patron saint of the city of Barcelona.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Family: Pilobatidae

Size: 4-5 kg, estimated (about 8 to 11 pounds), perhaps comparable in height to smaller living gibbons, about 43 cm (17 inches)

Etymology: The species name refers to the origin of the fossils, Catalonia.

Type locality: Spain, Catalonia, Hostalets de Pierola, Can Mata landfill

Holotype: Institut Catala de Paleontologica Miquel Crusafont, Sabadell, Spain

More information: David M. Alba, Sergio Almécija, Daniel DeMiguel, Josep Fortuny, Miriam Pérez de los Rios, Marta Pina, Joseph M. Robles, and Salvador Moyà-Solà. 2015. A new Miocene small-bodied ape from Eurasia sheds light on hominoid evolution. Science 350, aab2625. DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2625

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