Paleobiology of the oligopithecines, the earliest known anthropoid primates

  • D. Tab Rasmussen
  • Elwyn L. Simons


Anthropoid primates of the subfamily Oligopithecinae are late Eocene in age, and have a known distribution of Northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Body sizes of the three known oligopithecine species are estimated from allometric molar size regressions to be 700–1000 g forOligopithecus savagei, 600–900 g forCatopithecus browni, and 500 g for the least well-known and smallest species,Proteopithecus sylviae. Occlusal features of the molar teeth, considered in conjunction with body size, suggest that all three species were frugivorous and insectivorous. The orbital size ofCatopithecus indicates a diurnal activity cycle. A relatively broad interobital region in this species may indicate prosimian-like or callitrichid-like olfactory adaptations. Structural features of the crushed skull suggest thatCatopithecus had a smaller cranial capacity than those of extant anthropoids with a similar body size. Fossil plants and birds from localities yielding oligopithecines suggest a wet, warm, tropical, forested, swampy environment. These paleobiological inferences about the extinct oligopithecines are discussed in relation to questions about primate adaptations near the prosimian-anthropoid transition.

Key Words

primate evolution Oligopithecus Catopithecus Proteopithecus biogeography paleoenvironment body size diet activity cycles 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Tab Rasmussen
    • 1
  • Elwyn L. Simons
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington UniversitySt. Louis
  2. 2.Department of Biological Anthropology & Anatomy and Duke Primate CenterDuke UniversityDurham

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