Scientists discover new species of early anthropoid primate in Libya

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The recently discovered skeleton of an australopithecine boy sits on display at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town, April 24, 2010. The fossil is one of two partial skeletons unearthed in a South African cave that belong to a previously unclassified species of pre-human dating back almost 2 million years and may shed new light on human evolution, scientists said on April 8, 2010. Fossils of the bones of a young male and an adult female suggest the newly documented species, called Australopithecus sediba, walked upright and shared many physical traits with the earliest known human Homo species. Reuters

A new species of anthropoid primate was discovered by a team of scientists led by Kansas University in Libya. The team published last week the description of this previously unknown anthropoid primate named Apidium zuetina.

The research was headed by K. Christopher Beard, the foundation professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior curator with the Biodiversity Institute of University of Kansas. The primate is the first example of Apidium to be found outside of Egypt, Kansas University reports.

“Apidium is interesting because it was the first early anthropoid primate ever to be found and described, in 1908,” Beard said. “Before our discovery in Libya, only three species of Apidium were ever recovered in Egypt.”

Beard believes that the changing climatic and environmental conditions influenced the distribution of species of Apidium, which had a significant impact in its evolution. Specifically, the cooling and drying across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary is most likely the reason behind it.

The fossil was identified through a detailed analysis of its distinctive teeth, all of which function like fingerprints.  Thanks to its enamel’s durability, teeth are well-documented in the fossil record, helping paleontologists study through the cusps and crests on the fossil’s teeth.

Out of gratitude, the team named Apidium zuetina after the Zuetina Oil Company. The company provided the researchers with lodging, food, water and security that made the mission possible amidst the turmoil in Libya.

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