The Primate Fossil Record


Manage series 2908229
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A series on the fossils that make up the Primate Fossil Record. The first primate-like mammals, or proto-primates click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced, evolved in the early Paleocene Epoch (65.5-55.8 million years ago) at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. They were roughly similar to squirrels and tree shrews in size and appearance. The existing, very fragmentary fossil evidence (from Asia, Europe, North Africa, and especially Western North America) suggests that they were adapted to an arboreal way of life in warm, moist climates. They probably were equipped with relatively good eyesight as well as hands and feet adapted for climbing in trees. These primate-like mammals (Plesiadapiformes click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced) will remain rather shadowy creatures for us until more fossil data become available.
The primate-like mammals do not seem to have played an important role in the general transformation of terrestrial animal life immediately following the massive global extinctions of plants and animals that occurred about 65,500,000 years ago. The most dramatic changes were brought about by the emergence of grazing and browsing mammals with tough hoofs, grinding teeth, and digestive tracts specialized for the processing of grass, leaves, and other fibrous plant materials. The evolution of these herbivorous mammals provided the opportunity for the evolution of the carnivorous mammals specialized to eat them. These new hunters and scavengers included the evolutionary lines that would later produce the dogs, cats, and bears of our time. Adaptive radiation was resulting in the rapid evolution of new species to fill expanding ecological niches, or food getting opportunities. Most of these new animals were placental mammals. With the exception of bats, none of them reached Australia and New Guinea. This explains why they did not exist there until people brought them in recent times. South America had also drifted away from Africa and was not connected to North America after 80,000,000 years ago. However, around 20,000,000 years ago, South America reconnected with North America and placental mammals streamed in for the first time, resulting in the extinction of most of the existing marsupials there.
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