Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 539–565 | Cite as

Pedal distal phalanges of the Eocene adapoids Europolemur and Darwinius compared to phalanges of Notharctus and other primates

  • Wighart von KoenigswaldEmail author
  • Jörg Habersetzer
  • Philip D. Gingerich
Original Paper


Pedal distal phalanges of the Eocene adapoids Europolemur and Darwinius from Messel and Notharctus from Wyoming have been compared morphologically and metrically to representatives of all six superfamilies of extant primates. A detailed system of morphological types is established that differentiates pedal distal phalanges. Four major groups and 12 types can be recognised in primates. Primates additionally show a primary interruption of homogeneity (PIH) between the hallux and other pedal rays, as well as two distinct secondary interruptions of homogeneity (SIH) within more lateral pedal rays. Using morphology, PIH and SIH, we have developed a formula for pedal distal phalanges. Differences among Adapoidea are unexpectedly large. Notharctus shows less differentiation in the pedal phalanges than does Europolemur. Our analyses show that both species of Europolemur had a differentiated grooming claw. Preservation of the second distal phalanx in Darwinius is not sufficient for a detailed classification. Despite similarities of the grooming claws of Europolemur to those of some lemurs and lorises, we hesitate to classify adapoids with Lemuroidea and Lorisoidea as there are significant differences and a possibility of parallelism.


Distal phalanges Grooming claw Messel Eocene Adapoidea Primates 



We thank Thomas Martin (STIB, Bonn) for providing access to the μCT facilities; Peter Göddertz (STIPB, Bonn) and K. Schilling (Univ. Bonn) for producing most of the CT scans; and E. Schlosser-Sturm and A. Vogel (SMF, Frankfurt) and J. Schultz and A. Bergmann (Bonn) for help with the EDV programs and figures. Doug Boyer provided μCT images of the foot bones described by Maiolino et al. (2012). In addition, we thank Wolfgang Maier and Marc Godinot for very helpful reviews of the manuscript.

The important fossils were made accessible to us by E. Frey (SMNK, Karlsruhe), J. Hurum (Natural History Museum, Oslo), G. Gruber and N. Micklich (HLMD, Darmstadt). Gregg Gunnel drew our attention to previously undiscribed notharctine distal phalanges. Primate skeletons for μCT-scanning were loaned by J. Adrian (ZFMK, Bonn), M. Hiermeier (ZSM, München), R. Hutterer (ZFMK, Bonn), R. Kraft (ZSM, München), K. Krohmann (SMF, Frankfurt), W. Maier (Tübingen), F. Mayer (ZMB, Berlin) and K. Mätz-Reising (DPZ, Göttingen). We thank J. Franzen, J. Hurum, and B. H. Smith for discussion. The research project was supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung (Bonn) providing support to PDG, and by the Ermann-Stiftung (Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut, Frankfurt) providing financial support for additional external X-ray scans.


  1. Bloch JI, Boyer DM (2002) Grasping primate origins. Science 298:1606–1610CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bluntschli H (1929) Ein eigenartiges an Prosimierbefunde erinnerndes Nagelverhalten am Fuss von platyrrhinen Affen. Roux Arch Dev Biol 118:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Covert HH (1985) Adaptations and evolutionary relationships of the Eocene primate family Notharctidae. Ph D Duke Univ, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  4. Covert HH (1986) Biology of early Cenozoic primates. In: Swindler DR, Erwin J (eds) Comparative Primate Biology. Volume 1: Systematics, Evolution, and Anatomy. Alan Liss, New York, pp 335–359Google Scholar
  5. Dagosto M (1988) Implications of postcranial evidence for the origin of euprimates. J Human Evol 17:35–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dagosto M (1990) Models for the origin of the anthropoid postcranium. J Human Evol 19:121–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Franzen JL, Frey E (1993) Europolemur completed. Kaupia 3:113–130Google Scholar
  8. Franzen JL, Gingerich PD, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, Koenigswald Wv, Smith BH (2009) Complete primate skeleton from the middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology. PLoS One 4(e5723):1–27Google Scholar
  9. Gebo DL (2011) Vertical clinging and leaping revisited: Vertical support use as the ancestral condition of strepsirrhine primates. Am J Phys Anthropol 146:323–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gingerich PD (1976) Cranial anatomy and evolution of early Tertiary Plesiadapidae (Mammalia, Primates). Univ Michigan Papers Paleont 15:1–140Google Scholar
  11. Gingerich PD (2003) Land-to-sea transition of early whales: evolution of Eocene Archaeoceti (Cetacea) in relation to skeletal proportions and locomotion of living semiaquatic mammals. Paleobiology 29:429–454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gingerich, PD (2012) Primates in the Eocene. In: Lehmann T, Schaal SFK (eds) Messel and the terrestrial Eocene—Proceedings of the 22nd Senckenberg Conference. Palaeobio Palaeoenv 92(4). doi: 10.1007/s12549-012-0093-5
  13. Gingerich PD, Franzen JL, Habersetzer J, Hurum JH, Smith BH (2010) Darwinius masillae is a haplorhine – reply to Williams et al. (2010). J Human Evol 59:574–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Godinot M (1991) Approches fonctionelles des mains de primates paléogènes. Geobios 13:161–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gregory WK (1920) On the structure and relations of Notharctus, an American Eocene primate. Am Mus Nat Hist Mem 3:49–243Google Scholar
  16. Groves CP (1991) A theory of human and primate evolution. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  17. Hamrick MW, Alexander JP (1996) The hand skeleton of Notharctus tenebrosus (Primates, Notharctidae) and its significance for the origin of the primate hand. Am Mus Novit 3182:1–20Google Scholar
  18. Hershkovitz P (1977) Living New World monkeys (Platyrrhini), with an introduction to primates, vol 1. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  19. Jouffroy FK (1975) Osteology and myology of the lemuriform postcranial skeleton. In: Tattersall I, Sussman RW (eds) Lemur biology. Plenum Press, New York, pp 149–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jungers WL, Lemelin P, Godfrey LR, Wunderlich RE, Burney DA, Simons EL, Chatrath PS, James HF, Randria GFN (2005) The hands and feet of Archaeolemur: metrical affinities and their functional significance. J Human Evol 49:36–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kinzey WG, Rosenberger AL, Ramimirez M (1975) Vertical clinging and leaping in a neotropical anthropoid. Nature 255:327–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Koenigswald Wv (1979) Ein Lemurenrest aus dem eozänen Ölschiefer der Grube Messel bei Darmstadt. Paläontol Z 53:63–76Google Scholar
  23. Koenigswald Wv (1987) Die Fauna des Ölschiefers von Messel. In: Heil R, von Koenigswald W, Lippmann HG, Graner D, Heunisch O (eds) Fossilen der Messel Formation. Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, pp 71–142Google Scholar
  24. Koenigswald Wv, Habersetzer J, Gingerich PD (2011) Morphology and evolution of the distal phalanges in primates. In: Lehmann TM, Schaal SFK (eds) The world at the time of Messel: puzzles in palaeobiology, palaeoenvironment, and the history of early primates (conference volume, 22nd International Senckenberg Conference). Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, Frankfurt am Main, pp 91–94Google Scholar
  25. Le Gros Clark WE (1936) The problem of the claw in primates. Proc Zool Soc Lond 1936:1–24Google Scholar
  26. Le Gros Clark WE (1962) The antecedents of man. Edinburgh University Press, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  27. Lippmann HG, Wiemer G (1979) Bergung und Präparation von Fossilien aus der Grube Messel unter Berücksichtigung eines Primatenfundes. Präparator 25:3–13Google Scholar
  28. Maiolino S, Boyer DM, Rosenberger A (2011) Morphological correlates of the grooming claw in distal phalanges of platyrrhines and other primates: a preliminary study. Anat Rec 294:1975–1990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maiolino S, Boyer DM, Bloch JI, Gilbert CC, Groenke J (2012) Evidence for a grooming claw in a North American adapiform primate: implications for anthropoid origins. PLoS One 7(e29135):1–28Google Scholar
  30. Martin RD (1990) Primate origins and evolution: a phylogenetic reconstruction. Princeton Univ Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  31. Rose KD, Chester SGB, Dunn RH, Boyer DM, Bloch JI (2011) New fossils of the oldest North American euprimate Teilhardina brandti (Omomyidae) from the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. Am J Phys Anthropol 146:281–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Seiffert ER, Perry JMG, Simons EL, Boyer DM (2009) Convergent evolution of anthropoid-like adaptations in Eocene adapiform primates. Nature 461:1118–1121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Soligo C, Müller AE (1999) Nails and claws in primate evolution. J Human Evol 36:97–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Williams BA, Kay RF, Kirk EC, Ross CF (2010) Darwinius masillae is a strepsirrhine – a reply to Franzen et al. (2010). J Human Evol 59:567–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wunderlich RW, Simons EL, Jungers WL (1996) New pedal remains of Megaladapis and their functional significance. Am J Phys Anthropol 100:115–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wighart von Koenigswald
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jörg Habersetzer
    • 2
  • Philip D. Gingerich
    • 3
  1. 1.Steinmann Institut für Geologie, Mineralogie und PaläontologieUniversität BonnBonnGermany
  2. 2.Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und NaturmuseumFrankfurt am MainGermany
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesMuseum of Paleontology, University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations