THE MONKEYS OF THE ANTILLES

       With the recent discovery that there is abundant fossil material of primates exquisitely preserved in submerged caves and representing all parts of the skeleton, the Museo del Hombre Dominican and the DRSS has sparked a surge of interest in the origins and evolution of Caribbean primates.  We can expect to learn much more in the coming years and decades – how and when they arrived, who their ancestors were, what unique lifestyles they led in their unusual island habitats, and what drove them to extinction.  The lessons learned can contribute to the conservation of living primate communities that under threat now, in the New and Old Worlds.       

 

 

Monkeys of Hispaniola – Antillothrix and Insulacebus

 

The Dominican monkey – Antillothrix bernensis

     One of the earliest clues that monkeys once lived on the islands of the Greater Antilles was a fossilized partial tibia from the Dominican Republic, found near Samaná Bay in the 1920s.  But it was not recognized as a native species; it was thought to have been imported from Africa.   It wasn’t until 1977, when Dr. Renato Rimoli of the Museo del Hombre Dominicano found a small piece of a primate upper jaw with some teeth that we had definite evidence of an endemic Hispaniolan primate – one that existed nowhere else.

 

      That discovery added to a Jamaican fossil monkey described about 25 years earlier, proving that the Caribbean was a natural home for island descendants of the highly successful, mainland South American monkeys, called platyrrhines.  Rímoli (1977) first named the species “Saimiri bernensis,” noting similarities to the living squirrel monkey (genus Saimiri), and including in the name a reference to the cave where the new fossil was found, Cueva de Berna. Later studies showed that the species bernensis was anatomically unique, so it was transferred to a new genus and renamed Antillothrix bernensis, meaning “Monkey of the Antilles.” 

       

       The Museo del Hombre Dominicano now holds a trove of Antillothrix specimens from recent expeditions undertaken by highly-trained technical scuba divers of the DRSS, who continue to explore the flooded caves that speckle the island. Among the recent primate finds are several beautiful skulls with fragile features still intact, thanks to their internment in the minimally-disturbed environment of flooded caves. Resting these thousands, or even a million years in still, fresh water, the bones of have been preserved from the

 

Further Reading:

Cooke SB, Halenar LB, Gladman J, Klukkert ZS, Rosenberger AL. (2016) The paleobiology of the recently extinct platyrrhines of Brazil and the Caribbean. In Ruiz-Garcia M and Shostell JM (Eds.) Phylogeny, Molecular Population Genetics, Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of the Neotropical Primates. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Hauppauge NY.

 

Fleagle JG. 2013. Primate Adaptation & Evolution. 3rd ed. San Diego: Elsevier.

 

Ford SM. 1990. Platyrrhine evolution in the West Indies. Journal of Human Evolution: 237–254.

Halenar LB, Cooke SB, Rosenberger AL, Rímoli R. 2017. New cranium of the endemic Caribbean platyrrhine Antillothrix bernensis, from La Altagracia Province, Dominican Republic. Journal of Human Evolution. 106, 133-153.

 

Iturralde-Vinent MA, MacPhee RDE. 1999. Paleogeography of the Caribbean Region: Implications for the Cenozoic Biogeography. Bulletin American Museum of Natural History 238:1–95.

 

See Also:

Cooke SB. 2011. Paleodiet of extinct platyrrhines with emphasis on the Caribbean forms: three‐dimensional geometric morphometrics of mandibular second molars. The Anatomical Record 294: 2073–2091.

 

Kay RF, Hunt KD, Beeker CD, Conrad GW, Johnson CC, Keller J. 2011. Preliminary notes on a newly discovered skull of the extinct monkey Antillothrix from Hispaniola and the origin of the Greater Antillean monkeys. Journal of Human Evolution 60:124–128.

 

MacPhee RDE, Horovitz I, Arredondo O, Vasquez OJ. 1995. A new genus for the extinct Hispaniolan monkey Saimiri bernensis Rímoli, 1977: with notes on its systematic position. American Museum Novitates.

 

MacPhee RDE, Horovitz I. 2002. Extinct Quaternary platyrrhines of the Greater Antilles and Brazil. In: The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p 189–200.

 

Miller GS Jr. 1929. Mammals eaten by Indians, Owls and Spaniards in the coast region of the Dominican Republic. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 82:1–18.

 

Rímoli RO. 1977. Una nueva especia de monos (Cebidae: Saimirinae: Saimiri) de la Hispaniola. Cuadernos del Cendia, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo 242:1–14.

 

Rosenberger AL, Cooke SB, Rímoli R, Ni X, Cardoso L. 2010. First skull of Antillothrix bernensis, an extinct relict monkey from the Dominican Republic. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278:67–74.

 

Rosenberger AL, Klukkert ZS, Cooke SB, Rímoli R. 2013. Rethinking Antillothrix: the mandible and its implications. American Journal of Primatology:1–36.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Haitian Monkey – Insulacebus toussaintiana

       The Haitian monkey is the most recently described Antillean primate. The remains were excavated from dry caves on the Tiburon Peninsula in the 1980s by researchers from the University of Florida, but their importance was not recognized until 2011 when paleontologists examined the fossils in detail and named them Insulacebus toussaintiana.  Insulacebus was a medium-sized monkey, about the size of a modern capuchin monkey, 4.6kg/10.1lbs.  Its limb bones suggest it moved about the trees more like smaller squirrel monkeys, leaping across the voids, even though Insulacebus was more than three times the size of a squirrel monkey.

 

       This combination of size and locomotion is different from all other living and extinct platyrrhine monkeys, and it may well be an ancient pattern resembling the earliest South American primates.  As to diet, Insulacebus probably relied on fruits, supplemented by other plant foods and insects.  Fruit-specialists like Insulacebus tend to be smart, an important adaptation to finding sparse patches of ripe fruit in a dynamic environment. 

     

        Insulacebus was closely related to Antillothrix, and like its close cousin, it probably survived into the Holocene geologic period (11,700 years ago – present) which began after the end of the last Ice Age epoch. These monkeys may have overlapped geographically on the island of Hispaniola. It is also possible that Insulacebus and Antillothrix lived and evolved separately on either side of a narrow seaway that once divided the Tiburon Peninsula from the rest of the island.  

 

Further Reading:

Cooke SB, Halenar LB, Gladman J, Klukkert ZS, Rosenberger AL. (2016) The paleobiology of the recently extinct platyrrhines of Brazil and the Caribbean. In Ruiz-Garcia M and Shostell JM (Eds.) Phylogeny, Molecular Population Genetics, Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of the Neotropical Primates. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Hauppauge NY.

 

Cooke SB, Rosenberger AL, Turvey S. 2011. An extinct monkey from Haiti and the origins of the Greater Antillean primates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:2699–2704.

 

Fleagle JG. 2013. Primate Adaptation & Evolution. 3rd ed. San Diego: Elsevier.

 

Ford SM. 1990. Platyrrhine evolution in the West Indies. Journal of Human Evolution:237–254.

 

See Also:

Cooke SB. 2011. Paleodiet of extinct platyrrhines with emphasis on the Caribbean forms: three‐dimensional geometric morphometrics of mandibular second molars. The Anatomical Record 294:2073–2091.

 

Cooke SB, Tallman M. 2012. New endemic platyrrhine femur from Haiti: Description and locomotor analysis. Journal of Human Evolution 63:560–567.

 

Iturralde-Vinent MA, MacPhee RDE. 1999. Paleogeography of the Caribbean Region: Implications for the Cenozoic Biogeography. Bulletin American Museum of Natural History 238:1–95.

 

MacPhee RD, Woods CA. 1982. A new fossil cebine from Hispaniola. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 58:419–436.

The Cuban Monkey – Paralouatta

       For millions of years, Cuba was home to the extinct monkey Paralouatta. While most of its remains are thought to be less than 100,000 years old, and many much younger than that, there is one fossil Paralouatta that is dated to 16.3-23.3 million years ago, by far the oldest dated primate remains in the Caribbean. This means that Paralouatta was extremely successful in Cuba, a long-lived genus that was well-adapted to the island. 

       

       Paralouatta was a very large monkey, weighing about 9kg/20lbs – twice the size of the other extinct monkeys from Jamaica and Hispaniola, and about as large as the biggest South American monkeys alive today. From their teeth we know they were fruit-eaters but, based on what we know about other monkeys of this size, Paralouatta must have relied on leaves or other lower-quality plant parts to supplement its preferred foods. They probably foraged in the trees, but unlike any monkeys in the Americas today, the bones of the Cuban monkey suggest that it also spent some time on the ground.

 

       The peculiarities of Paralouatta don’t stop there – this monkey had very small canine teeth, and yet with a significant difference in the sizes of adult fossils we can infer that males were probably much bigger than females. This suggests these monkeys were social, probably lived in groups, but had moved away from using long, tusk-like canines as weapons to bluff or fight. Early human ancestors also shifted away from large canines in the course of our evolution, and one has to wonder what may have promoted the evolution of small canine teeth in Paralouatta as well. What sort of ecological pressure pushed for such a change in these monkeys, and could it have been analogous to those that affected our own ancestors?

 

Further Reading:

Cooke SB, Halenar LB, Gladman J, Klukkert ZS, Rosenberger AL. (2016) The paleobiology of the recently extinct platyrrhines of Brazil and the Caribbean. In Ruiz-Garcia M and Shostell JM (Eds.) Phylogeny, Molecular Population Genetics, Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of the Neotropical Primates. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Hauppauge NY.

 

Fleagle JG. 2013. Primate Adaptation & Evolution. 3rd ed. San Diego: Elsevier.

 

Ford SM. 1990. Platyrrhine evolution in the West Indies. Journal of Human Evolution:237–254.

 

MacPhee RDE, Horovitz I. 2002. Extinct Quaternary platyrrhines of the Greater Antilles and Brazil. In: The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p 189–200.

 

See Also:

Cooke SB. 2011. Paleodiet of extinct platyrrhines with emphasis on the Caribbean forms: Three‐dimensional geometric morphometrics of mandibular second molars. The Anatomical Record 294:2073–2091.

 

Horovitz I, MacPhee RDE. 1999. The quaternary Cuban platyrrhine Paralouatta varonai and the origin of Antillean monkeys. Journal of Human Evolution 36:33–68.

 

MacPhee RDE. 1993. From Cuba: A mandible of Paralouatta. Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews 2:42.

 

MacPhee RDE, Iturralde-Vinent MA. 1995. Earliest monkey from Greater Antilles. Journal of Human Evolution 28:197–200.

 

MacPhee RDE, Iturralde-Vinent MA. 1995. Origin of the Greater Antillean land mammal Fauna, 1: New Tertiary fossils from Cuba and Puerto Rico. American Museum Novitates:1–32.

 

MacPhee RDE, Meldrum JEFF. 2006. Postcranial remains of the extinct monkeys of the Greater Antilles, with evidence for semiterrestriality in Paralouatta. American Museum Novitates 3516:1–65.

 

Rivero de la Calle M. 1988. Report from Universidad de la Habana, Cuba. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology News Bulletin:13–14.

 

Rivero M, Arredondo O. 1991. Paralouatta varonai, a new Quaternary platyrrhine from Cuba. Journal of Human Evolution:1–11.

 

Rosenberger AL. 2002. Platyrrhine paleontology and systematics: The paradigm shifts. In: Hartwig WC, editor. The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p 151–160.

 

Salgado EJ, Calvache DG, MacPhee RDE, Gould GC. 1992. The monkey caves of Cuba. Transactions of the British Cave Research Association 19:25–30.

The Jamaican Monkey – Xenothrix

       The Jamaican monkey Xenothrix mcgregori has been called the most enigmatic of the extinct New World monkeys. The first specimen found was a lower jaw similar in size to medium-sized monkeys from South America, but it had molar teeth that were far larger than is typical in a mandible of its size. Odder still, the jaw had only two - rather than the typical three - flat-cusped, heavily enameled molar teeth, suitable for crushing hard vegetation including seeds and nuts. Most South American marmoset and tamarin monkeys have two molar teeth as well but their molars are quite small and crested, as expected in a mixed feeder that relies on softer fruits and insects. 

 

       Was Xenothrix a bizarre relative of marmosets and tamarins, or of owl or titi monkeys?  All three hypotheses have been suggested, along with the idea that its very closest relatives may be Antillean rather than South American – perhaps Insulacebus or Antillothrix from nearby Hispaniola.  

       

       What was life like for Xenothrix? While we have several examples of fossil long bones, hips (pelves) and jaw bones, all recovered from dry Jamaican caves, the peculiar anatomy of Xenothrix has no living primate analog. We can say that its limbs were suited to a form of slow, arboreal quadrupedal walking, and its diet probably centered on harder fruits and possibly soft-bodied insects.  As to body size, the odd teeth provides few clues and,  like all Caribbean monkeys, Xenothrix was thick-limbed, making bone-based reconstructions difficult.  Current estimates are that it weighed 2-4kg/4.4-8.8 lbs.

 

Further Reading:

Cooke SB, Halenar LB, Gladman J, Klukkert ZS, Rosenberger AL. (2016) The paleobiology of the recently extinct platyrrhines of Brazil and the Caribbean. In Ruiz-Garcia M and Shostell JM (Eds.) Phylogeny, Molecular Population Genetics, Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of the Neotropical Primates. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., Hauppauge NY.

 

Fleagle JG. 2013. Primate Adaptation & Evolution. 3rd ed. San Diego: Elsevier.

 

Ford SM. 1990. Platyrrhine evolution in the West Indies. Journal of Human Evolution:237–254.

 

MacPhee RDE, Horovitz I. 2002. Extinct Quaternary platyrrhines of the Greater Antilles and Brazil. In: The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p 189–200.

 

See Also:

Cooke SB. 2011. Paleodiet of extinct platyrrhines with emphasis on the Caribbean forms: Three‐dimensional geometric morphometrics of mandibular second molars. The Anatomical Record 294:2073–2091.

 

Ford SM, Morgan GS. 1986. A new ceboid femur from the late Pleistocene of Jamaica. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 6:281–289.

 

MacPhee RDE, Fleagle JG. 1991. Postcranial remains of Xenothrix mcgregori (Primates, Xenotrichidae) and other Late Quaternary mammals from Long Mile Cave, Jamaica. Bulletin American Museum of Natural History:287–320.

 

MacPhee RDE, Horovitz I. 2004. New craniodental remains of the Quaternary Jamaican monkey Xenothrix mcgregori (Xenotrichini, Callicebinae, Pitheciidae), with a reconsideration of the Aotus hypothesis. American Museum Novitates:1–51.

 

MacPhee RDE, Meldrum JEFF. 2006. Postcranial remains of the extinct monkeys of the Greater Antilles, with evidence for semiterrestriality in Paralouatta. American Museum Novitates 3516:1–65.

 

Rosenberger AL. 1977. Xenothrix and ceboid phylogeny. Journal of Human Evolution 6:461–481.

 

Rosenberger AL. 2002. Platyrrhine paleontology and systematics: The paradigm shifts. In: Hartwig WC, editor. The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p 151–160.

 

Williams EE, Koopman KF. 1952. West Indian fossil monkeys. American Museum Novitates:1–16.

 
 

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Antillothrix bernensis

Fossil recovered from La Jeringa