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New Texas Primate Species Found!

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on April 4th, 2007

Eocene Texas coastal habitat Art by Abby Salazar

Eocene Texas coastal habitat. Art by Abby Salazar.

New primate species found in 42 million-year-old Laredo fossils

Something old is now something new, thanks to Lamar University researcher Jim Westgate and colleagues. The scientists’ research has led to the discovery of a new genus and species of primate, one long vanished from the earth but preserved in the fossil record.

Westgate is a professor of earth and space sciences at Lamar and a research associate in the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, Texas Natural Science Center, University of Texas-Austin. He and his research colleagues, Dana Cope, professor of anthropology, College of Charleston, and Chris Beard, curator, Vertebrate Paleontology Section, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, announced their discovery at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Philadelphia, Pa., today (Thursday, March 29).

Molar, pre-molar and incisor teeth from the new primate genus and three other new primate species were recovered from 42 million-year-old tropical, mangrove palm swamp deposits of the Eocene age Laredo Formation exposed in Lake Casa Blanca International State Park in Laredo.

The association of primate fossils with the skeletal remains of oysters, sharks, rays, giant aquatic snakes and crocodiles, along with mangrove palm fruits and pollen, indicates that the middle Eocene shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico lay 150 miles inland of its present position, Westgate said.

The team is preparing detailed manuscripts describing the new Omomyid primates. One of the spoils of discovering a new species is the opportunity to give it a name. The formal name of the new genus, which means “primate of the coastal lagoons”, will be released at publication time, Westgate said.

Omomyids (members of the extinct taxon Omomyidae) lived 34 to 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch and were one of two groups of known Eocene primates. The other, adapids, were more lemur-like. Fossils of these Eocene primates have been found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Eocene primates are the earliest known primates.

Omomyids had large eye orbits, long grasping fingers and short snouts. Tiny creatures, they weighed less than a quarter of a pound. These extinct creatures with large eyes were probably nocturnal. Like most modern primates, the omomyids used their long fingers for climbing. The tibia and fibula were fused which could mean that they were adept at leaping between tree branches. They had small mouths, and it is likely that insects were a part of their regular diet.

The presence of a diverse primate community with four species living on the Texas coast during late middle Eocene time is significant because at that time primate diversity in the northern interior of North America had diminished greatly because of global climatic cooling and uplifting of the Rocky Mountains, Westgate said. The tropical environment on the Texas coast appears to have allowed primates to thrive locally while their relatives in the continental interior faced near extinction.

Lamar University, the University of Texas Geology Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Geological Society of America provided funds for field excavations in Laredo.Lamar University

A diverse primate community in Texas?

The Hell you say!

This is what Discovery News reported about this exciting primate fossil find here in my home state of Texas.

tarsier primate

Researchers studying ancient primate fossils in south Texas say the animals’ closest living relative would probably be the tarsier primate, pictured here in the Philippines.

Ancient Primates Thrived in…Texas?

April 3, 2007 — A team of anthropologists said their study of South Texas fossil deposits revealed evidence including ancient teeth that shows the area was home to numerous types of primates 42 million years ago.

Lamar University Professor Jim Westgate and two colleagues announced the discovery of three new genera and four new species of primates based on their examination of material removed from Lake Casa Blanca International State Park near Laredo and the Mexican border.

Westgate said the Laredo area was a coastal lagoon during the stage of geologic history known as the Eocene Epoch, which was when primates were becoming extinct on much of the continent.

“It was kind of the last gasp for the primates in North America,” said Westgate, a professor of earth and space sciences.

The researchers presented their findings last week at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Philadelphia.

Westgate and others are still studying the 15 tons of material excavated from the park’s fossil deposits between 1983 and 1996. Researchers recovered 1,800 mammal teeth, including 50 from primates.

Dana Cope, a co-author of the study and associate professor of anthropology at College of Charleston in South Carolina, compared the teeth with other primate teeth from the same era. He said the newly discovered teeth, which measure about 4 millimeters, were not from known primates.

“This is a very important locality,” Cope said. “Not much is known about Eocene mammals outside the Rocky Mountains.”

Cope said the genus the researches have focused on likely had a diet of leaves and foliage and weighed about two pounds. Its closest living relative would probably be the tarsier primate that lives in the Philippines.

Westgate said one of the project’s main goals was to excavate the material and protect it for study and documentation.

“We knew way back we had something important,” he said. “Now we’re targeting areas that needed more research.”Discovery News

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


27 Responses to “New Texas Primate Species Found!”

  1. Mnynames responds:

    Not exactly a likely precursor of Bigfoot, but it’s a start!

    Seriously though, this is a prime example of fossil discoveries that no one would’ve expected. Who knows what else we’ll find? Perhaps there are North American gigantopithecid fossils lurking just below the surface of some unsuspected location, just waiting for someone to scrape off the dirt and display it to the world. Hope springs eternal, and seemingly, so do new fossil finds!

  2. DWA responds:

    OK. Not a paleontologist, not a primatologist, so color me confused.

    I keep hearing that a primary argument against the presence of the sasquatch in North America is an absence of primates from the fossil record for this continent.

    Period.

    Clearly not the case; did I just hear wrong? Doesn’t sound like this is anywhere near the first such discovery. I know, I know, last gasp and all. But still. I’d heard there weren’t any; apparently I’d just heard wrongly.

    And all that being even as it may: The fossil record is, and almost certainly always will be, incomplete. When it comes to fossils, absence of evidence is most assuredly not evidence of absence.

  3. Loren Coleman responds:

    Yes, you heard wrong. Ancient fossil finds of primates in North America is nothing new.

    Fossil finds of prehistoric great apes, anthropoids, pongids, hominoids and hominids (whatever label tickles your fancy) are generally what is held out as being absence from the record, and thus as some form of “skeptical proof” than Sasquatch and Bigfoot don’t exist in North America.

  4. dogu4 responds:

    This should be an excellent “learnable moment” since it prompts those interested to take a look at what the geological scene was 42 million years ago as well as the state of primate evolution back then. These primitive primates inhabited a continent far different from what we see today; still more than 25 million years before the appearance of great apes and the atlantic ocean still in its infancy, 23 million years since the great Cretaceous/Triassic die-off. When dealing with time frames on this scale it’s sometimes usefull to imagine the tectonic plates moving relative to one another at a rate of only 2 inches a year but amplified by 42million years (1 mile=63,360 inches, so the widening would be on the order of 800 miles since the time when those primates’ teeth became fossilized).

  5. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- As Loren said, it is mostly geat apes, hominids, or anything that could be large enough to be Bigfoot that is absent from the North American fossil record. And I definately agree that with the fossil record being what it is, the lack of anything found so far does not necessarily mean that there is nothing there. It is not evidence of absence. I feel that there is every possibility that this sort of fossil evidence that we have been missing up to now could be found at some point.

  6. DWA responds:

    Loren/mystery_man: one thing I did know is that the “higher” primates are definitely missing from the North American fossil record.

    But I think that what appears to be the scientific presumption that, whoops, the primate line just pooped out in the Eocene is, well….one wonders how many “cow bones” got tossed into construction waste heaps and bulldozed into oblivion. Or got busted into oblivion before anyone even saw them.

    We do have the ice ages to consider. Not exactly ape-friendly, the ice sheets. And the Bering land bridge has traditionally been thought solely the province of primates with spears wearing skins. (Who made shelters using mammoth bones and tusks where there weren’t any trees.) But it would seem to me that, in general, the brainer (and as Bergmann might have said, the bulkier) the better, when it comes to cold.

    I guess what I’m wondering is this: was the Bering land bridge all tundra, no trees? The modern sas (if there is such a thing) seems a forest animal, as do all the other apes…except, um, one…

    And here I’m left still thinking….hmmmmmmm…..

  7. bukko responds:

    If the Abominable Snowman can live where he lives, ( I don’t know about them) then Bigfoot like great apes could walk across that bridge. Don’t ya think? I do.

  8. DWA responds:

    And of course another thing I’d totally forgotten about is the huge adaptive radiation of primeval apes across Africa, then Asia and Europe, in the period before the first recognized hominids appeared. (I think the September 2006 Scientific American had a detailed article on this very topic.)

    Since we have ample evidence of primates in Texas, could not such a thing have happened in North America in a very similar way, with the Lone Star State as the Cradle of Bigfoot, and populations – and species? – following waterways and settling in other well-watered locales further north, west, and east? This might lead one to postulate more than one North American ape – a thesis there is no good reason to toss in the garbage yet.

    Maybe an intensive review of construction practices across the southern tier of the US is in order, either to retrieve “lost” evidence or to intelligently speculate as to the likelihood that we have lost evidence.

    Just a thought.

  9. dogu4 responds:

    I’ve done a little study on Beringia and according to current models and evidence it was a type of habitat that for all intents and purposes no longer exists; the Mammoth Steppe. While it resembes the tundra it was dominated not by permafrost supported wet environments which supported willow, vacciniums and heathers but by exteme wind and dryness associated with the glacial environments they were; with artemesias and grasses being dominant. Also note, while we use the term “bridge” to describe this now sunken landform, it was in fact over 1300 miles north to south, persisted for a long long time and geologically speaking it reveals that North America and Asia are the same tectonic landmasses. There’s no doubt a lotta neat stuff just below the surface of the ground and water there.

  10. DWA responds:

    bukko: one thing that would have once told me yeah, right, about the Bering bridge theory was that I once believed the main theory to be that the sas was totally vegetarian.

    Not so much. Not so much the yeti either.

    Could have happened. But you know what? I don’t think the sas as it’s been represented in pictures (and in P/G) looks so much like anything I’ve seen theorized for Gigantopithecus (which seems the Bering Bridge front-runner at the moment).

    Until someone shoots it fulla holes, I’m sticking with my “Texas, The Cradle of Bigfoot” theory.

    Go TBRC! :-D

  11. Bob Michaels responds:

    Lemur like, more like a Bush Baby, Galago or Aye Aye.

  12. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I wouldn’t try and shoot any theory full of holes at this point! :) My only reservation about the idea of Bigfoot originating within North America is that that would indicate a long history of evolutionary development and probably quite a bit of speciation during that time period. If that was the case, I would think that there would have been at least some fossils found of these different ancestors of any North American ape. It seems to me that there would not be a complete lack of any fossils of larger, more advanced primates if they had evolved within the North American continent. There would at least be some sort of fragmentary evidence of this evolutionary development in my opinion even if some evidence was “lost”, rather than a complete blank. That is why I feel that somehow these creatures migrated to the continent at some point although I do not completely rule out the theory of a great ape, pongid, or whatever evolving in North America.

  13. crgintx responds:

    If we’re going to find large primate/homonid bones in North America, we’re going to have to look where conditions are similar to those of the Rift Valley of Africa. Let me see, a deciduous forest on the edge of grasslands with good water with a mountainous or upland area to the east of it? Boy, that sure sounds allot like the area that stretches from Missouri to Northeast Texas or the Central Texas Hill country to the South. Where did they find these fossils? Near Laredo, an area that transitions from rocky forested hills to coastal plains. Am I the only one seeing a pattern here? IMHO If a separate line of primates rose here in the North America, they’re going to be found in the same ecological niches that primates of Africa can be found.

  14. mystery_man responds:

    So basically, although I think that fossil remains of Bigfoot could have gone misidentified or unfound for all this time, I find it harder to believe a whole evolutionary line could have gone undiscovered.

  15. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: in response to your countertheory :-) I can only say that we may know more about primate development and speciation in the Old World because there has been much less uniform – and much less intensive and rapid – infrastructure development across the span of terrain within which fossils have been found there.

    But yeah, the total absence of more advanced primate fossils here doesn’t help any “made in USA” theory. Any more than it’s helped by the sheer (seeming) implausibility of something that big, seen by a lot of people, and not yet being recognized by scientific evidence of any sort.

  16. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Yeah, stranger things have happened, eh? :)

  17. Pentastar responds:

    I find it a bit awkward that some people try to relate this to bigfoot and using the “lack of fossil finds” from large primates as an argument that bigfoot does not exist. well, fair enough but it’s not a rule that all dead animals turn into fossils. It’s a procedure that depends on quite a few conditions to fall in place. I would say it’s impossible that for example all dinosaur species that lived a million centuries ago have been discovered. Most left overs and skeleton parts simply disappear in natures own recycle machine. The human perspective isn’t bigger than what we allow it to be.

  18. BugMO responds:

    I’ve got a question, how many and what types of ancient primates used to live in the Americas?

  19. bukko responds:

    DWA, I can totally support your “Texas Cradle of Bigfoot” theroy. All ya gotta do is include Oklahoma and Arkansas and ya got the whole thing. I’m living here in Oklahoma and you’re right. I think a whole lotta you people got the right idea. Good going.
    Plus, I think about the Smoky Mountains and all that area around those parts. It would be so easy for Bigfoot to live there. Around Mena, Arkansas, You go 3 miles any direction you’re in deep woods. And we know what Texas’ like!

  20. joppa responds:

    Most people forget that the U.S. was heavily glaciated within the last 40,000 years. Glaciers grind up a lot of bones and the loess soils that blow off glacial areas bury ‘em real deep. That said, it doesn’t explain away the absence of a fossil record, but you are not going to find a African Rift valley equivalent in North America.

  21. mystery_man responds:

    Pentastar- I completely agree that fossils of Bigfoot could exist somewhere and I am well aware of how tricky fossils can be. It is actually a pretty rare process and we are far from cataloguing all of the species that have ever existed. But if there is a long evolutionary history of apes in America, there should be something. Not all animals turn to fossils, but with that sort of radiation of primate species and if they were that successful, SOME would. What I was saying is that if Bigfoot evolved in America, I would expect some sort of record of at least intermediate species leading up to Bigfoot, but there is nothing at this point. I do not take this to be evidence that Bigfoot does not exist, just that it perhaps did not evolve in North America. Lack of fossils can be explained, sure, but I see nothing to support a full lineage of primates in America going back millions of years and leading up to Bigfoot. I just feel it is premature to jump the gun and embrace the idea of an indigenous large ape that evolved here without any sort of record at all ( not yet anyway) to support that theory. It is a nifty idea, and there are some good ideas here on how it could happen, but for me the lack of evidence for diversification of different primates within America is too scant for me to hold too strongly to that theory.

  22. traveler responds:

    Wow, a lot of discussion and theory based on what was it 3 or 4 teeth?

  23. traveler responds:

    Reminds me of a theory based on one tooth. Anyone remember that?

  24. bukko responds:

    You got a point Traveler. But, I still think more will be found. At least that’s what I hope.

  25. crgintx responds:

    Joppa, the conditions don’t have to be exact but similar for similar parallel evolution to occur. Evolution has some mighty large holes in it.

    For instance why are there bears in both Southern Asia and South America but none in Africa? Why did large primates only evolve in Africa and Southeast Asia and not the Americas?

  26. dogu4 responds:

    cirgntx:…go check out the name “atlas bear”…it live(d) in Africa…also primates live in north America…the Yucatan and elsewhere…As for the hole in evolution, the only hole in envolution is the one genuine researchers are filling-in all the time, and the one you are evidently see but are failing to understand its importance. There’s never been a better time to explore the world of information at your fingertips. These articles and discussions here are fantastic invitations to learn beyond what you already think you know.
    Cheers.

  27. Mnynames responds:

    It’s a long way to go from Bush Baby to Bigfoot. I’m willing to spend some time speculating on the possible parallel evolution of the Yowie, based on its remote location and some possibly atypical anatomy (Although my personal belief is that it is either H. erectus or a descendant), but to my mind, all the possible North American apes we discuss here clearly seem to be either pongids or hominids (-noids, -nins, take your pick), and that means that they must be relatively recent migrants to the continent. This also helps explain the apparent lack of fossil evidence, as it was recent, and likely to have been wiped clean away by the ice age glaciers.

    Further, that Sci-Am article that one of you mentioned also stated that the “cradle of primates” was actually Europe during an interglacial period roughly 10-5 MYA, making it equally difficult to find early specimens due to those same glaciers erasing the landscape. From Europe, they spread to Africa, where they rode out the ice ages and then spread across into Asia (Except for the Lemurs, who were already there). Those in Europe died out as the conditions grew colder.

    Now, I suppose it is just possible that some of these early European Primates might have somehow made it across the Atlantic to North America, and once established, evolved into our dear Cryptids, though there you would have to explain the means of migration. Everything else I mentioned- recent arrival, elimination of possible fossils via glaciation, would still apply.

    There is a bit of a fudge factor here, for although we know for certain that one particular Primate made it to North America via the Bering land bridge (making that the most likely vector of any other Primate), recent genetic studies have shown that many Native Americans possess a rare gene found only in Europeans, and that this is too widespread to have been caused by modern intermarriage. Therefore, the scientific suggestion here is that at least some Proto-Indians MUST have come from Europe prior to the last Asian migration roughly 11 TYA. Assuming that they didn’t have ocean-going vessels 30 TYA, they must have walked, and that means any other Primate could have done so too.

    Obviously the dates are a bit off, and there’s no doubt a big difference between 8 MYA and 30 TYA (Although personally I hold to the genetic evidence that suggests North American settlement roughly 50 TYA), if there was a land bridge at 30 TYA, there might still have been one 8 MYA. As someone else here said, the continents don’t move that fast, but the time interval is enough for a discernable drift to have taken place.

    Not sure if I’ve cleared things up for anybody, or muddied the waters further, but it’s food for thought nonetheless, and hopefully not too hard on anyone’s palate.



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