Monkey Forest Tales: When monkeys appear?

Today we are going to talk about when monkeys appear in this world and what we know about the first monkeys who live in our planet. If you remember your biology class, you probably remember a little about evolution, which is the theory explaining how animals evolve from just one cell to organisms as complex as us. This theory proposed that at some point we have a common ancestor with all primates (for more information about what we call a primate, see here).

Well, that first primates were a diverse group of mammals, some were the size of a mouse while others were more like a fox size mammals,  originated during the Eocene period (54- 34 million years). With diurnal and nocturnal habits, mainly eating insects and fruits, the larger ones probably eating leaves too. Some use quadrupedal movements and others were specialized for leaping.

Fossils from those early primates are known from Europe, North Africa and Asia which had a tropical climates during that period. There is not an only answer of how primates reached South America, but the first records are from the Oligocene, 34-23 millions of years. It seems primates reached South America by rafting from Africa or North America, with the oldest fossil from at least 30 million years.

During Pliocene period primates diversify across all continents. Most fossil vrecords of monkeys from South America came from the Miocene period in different localities of Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean. Most modern monkeys of South and Central America seems to be originated during late Miocene, around 12 – 13 millions of years. Those fossils came from a location closer to the Amazon Basin, in La Venta. Most of these fossils are similar to squirrel monkey, tamarins, sakis, howlers and nocturnal monkeys.

During Pleistocene, monkeys in South America retrieve to some refugees due to climate changes that reduced forest cover. After that, when forest refugees expanded, some populations of some species had diversify so much that became different species, like the ones present today.

Species in the study areas all seems to have been diversify from species from the Amazon region, who dispersed north towards the more fragmented gallery forest of the Llanos, according to molecular data.

Defler, T.R. 2004. Primates of Colombia. Conservation International, tropical field guide series.

Fleagle, J.G. 1999. Primates adaptation and evolution. Academic Press.

Strier, K.B. 2007. Primates Behavioral Ecology. Pearson Education, Inc.

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