, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 371-412

Comparative and functional anatomy of phalanges in Nacholapithecus kerioi, a Middle Miocene hominoid from northern Kenya

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Abstract

We describe phalanges of the KNM-BG 35250 Nacholapithecus kerioi skeleton from the Middle Miocene of Kenya. Phalanges of N. kerioi display similarities to those of Proconsul heseloni despite their enhanced robusticity. They do not show highly specialized features as in living suspensory primates. However, N. kerioi manifests several distinctive features that are observed in neither living arboreal quadrupeds nor P. heseloni or P. nyanzae. The most remarkable of them is its phalangeal elongation. N. kerioi phalanges (particularly pedal) are as long as those of Pan despite its much smaller body size. While lengthened digits enable a secure grip of supports and are especially adaptive for grasping large vertical trunks, the skeletal and soft tissues are subjected to greater stress. Probably, strong selective pressures favored powerful hallucal/pollical assisted grips. Although this functional adaptation does not exclude the possible use of the terrestrial environment, arboreal behavioral modes must have been crucial in its positional repertoire. N. kerioi is distinguished from P. heseloni in the greater size of its manual phalanges over its pedal phalanges. These derived features of N. kerioi suggest positional modes supporting more weight on the forelimb, and which occur more frequently on vertical supports. If Proconsul is referred to as an "above-branch arboreal quadruped" with a deliberate and effective climbing capability, N. kerioi may be thought of as an "orthograde climber". While living apes are powerful orthograde climbers, they are also more or less suspensory specialists. Suspensory behavior (plus climbing) and pronograde quadrupedalism (plus climbing) are the two main arboreal behavioral adaptations in living anthropoids. Thus, N. kerioi is an unusual fossil primate in that it cannot be incorporated into this dichotomy. It is plausible that a N. kerioi-like orthograde climber with large forelimbs and cheiridia was a precursor of suspensory living apes, and N. kerioi may demonstrate what an initial hominoid of this grade might have looked like.