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Simiolus spp.
Simiolus spp.

Scientific classification
Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Infraclass:  Eutheria
Superorder:  Euarchontoglires
Order:  Primates
Suborder:  Haplorrhini
Infraorder:  Simiiformes
Parvorder:  Catarrhini
Family:  Dendropithecidae
Genus:  Simiolus  Leakey & Leakey, 1987

Simiolus is an extinct genus of dendropithecid primates. It was described by M.G. Leakey and R.E. Leakey in 1987, and the type species is S. enjiessi, which existed during the Miocene of Kenya. The species epithet is a phonetic pun on the acronym NGS. A new species, S. andrewsi, also from the middle Miocene of Kenya, was described by Terry Harrison in 2010.

  • Simiolus enjiessi Leakey & Leakey, 1987
  • Simiolus leakeyorum
  • Simiolus cheptumoae Pickford & Kunimatsu, 2005
  • Simiolus andrewsi Harrison, 2010
  • Simiolus minutus Rossie & Hill 2018

Earth's Smallest Ape Weighed 8 lbs., Lived 12.5 Million Years Ago

By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | November 6, 2018 04:00pm ET

[Image: aHR0cDovL3d3dy5saXZlc2NpZW5jZS5jb20vaW1h...1hcGUuanBn]
The newfound ape species was tiny, according to its tiny teeth (b), much smaller than a modern chimpanzee, whose jaw is shown (a). When scaled down to fit the size of the newfound ape, the chimpanzee jaw would be super tiny ©.
Credit: Stony Brook University

The remains of the smallest ape ever known to walk the Earth may have been discovered in the hills of Kenya, scientists say.
Weighing around 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms), the ape lived around 12.5 million years ago in Kenya. While other species of small ape are known to have existed, this one may be the smallest, scientists wrote in a paper set to be published in December in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Named Simiolus minutus, the new species is known from only three tiny teeth, one of which was discovered by James Rossie, an anthropology professor at Stony Brook University in New York, during fieldwork in Kenya's Tugen Hills, in 2004. 

Rossie and his co-author, Andrew Hill, an anthropology professor at Yale University who died in 2015, examined the tooth to see if it matched any known species of ape. It did not, though the tiny tooth is anatomically similar, they found, to two other teeth uncovered in previous paleontological expeditions in Kenya. They concluded that the three teeth belong to a new species of ape.

[Image: aHR0cDovL3d3dy5saXZlc2NpZW5jZS5jb20vaW1h...QxNTM5MTg3]
The newfound little ape, Simiolus minutus, is known from just three, tiny teeth.
Credit: Stony Brook University

They aren't certain when this species went extinct, but it appears to have been locked in a battle of sorts with colobine monkeys — primates whose living members include the large-nosed proboscis monkey and the South Asian langurs —which were just beginning to appear in the fossil record. (Apes are not monkeys and are on different branches of the phylogenetic tree; they also have several physical differences — apes don't have tails and monkeys do.)

The colobine monkeys were the "new kids on the block," and they had to compete with these tiny apes for food, Rossie told Live Science. Examination of the teeth of the tiny ape species reveal that the animal was eating leaves and fruit. "It was incorporating a significant amount of foliage into its diet," Rossie said.

This mix of leaves and fruit would have put the tiny apes in direct competition with the colobine monkeys, a competition the tiny apes eventually lost. Although monkeys flourished in the fossil record, small apes, such as the newly discovered species, went extinct, leaving only the larger species of apes around.

Scientists have studied the Tugen Hills site extensively since the late 1960s. Hill, and other geologists, used a dating method that relies on a ratio of potassium and argon to date the strata, or layer, of the Tugen Hills where the teeth were found. These tests allowed scientists to determine that the new species lived around 12.5 million years ago.

All three of the teeth samples from the newly discovered species are now in the National Museum of Kenya.

Journal Reference:
James B. Rossie & Andrew Hill A new species of Simiolus from the middle Miocene of the Tugen Hills, Kenya Journal of Human Evolution Volume 125, December 2018, Pages 50-58

A new species of the “small-bodied ape” Simiolus is described here that extends the temporal range of the genus to the end of the Middle Miocene. As such, it is one of the few species of fossil primates known from East Africa during a time of significant change in which Old World monkeys and crown hominoids replaced the primitive ape-like primates that had dominated the early Miocene. The dynamics of this important event in our evolutionary history are obscured by the small number of fossil primates known from Africa between 14 and 6 million years ago, as well as persistent ambiguity regarding the phylogenetic status of the ape-like Miocene primates. The new species described here helps to fill this temporal gap, and our analysis of its phylogenetic position suggests that Simiolus and many other Miocene primates were not only ape-like, they were, indeed, stem hominoids. Judging from the available material, the new species may be the smallest known ape.
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