For decades, paleontologists have wondered how the fauna managed to reach South America. The continent’s spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and marmosets form their own primate group, separate from Africa and Asia. The most popular theory is that the ancestors of these apes somehow crossed the Atlantic about 40 to 32 million years ago. But how?
An African monkey in South America
Recently, new evidence was found to confirm this suspicion, in the form of a fossilized monkey tooth in the rocks of the Brazilian Amazon. “When one of my Brazilian colleagues showed me this tooth, my heart started beating faster,” says paleontologist Laurent Marivaux of the University of Montpellier in France. A 34 million year old molar This is the opinion of the researchers Not from a South American monkey, but like a tooth from an early monkey species that lived in South Asia.
Paleontologist Eric Seifert and his colleagues previously discovered fossils of a monkey in Peru. Usayalipithecus. This animal does not belong to modern South American monkeys, but is linked to ancestors in prehistoric Africa. This indicates that monkeys migrated from Africa to South America at least twice. A new tooth from Brazil may be evidence of a third group of animals that crossed the ocean millions of years ago.
Monkeys aren’t the only animals to make this journey. Paleontologists also believe that the ancestors of a group of rodents, including the capybara, came to South America from the African continent.
preceded by a flood
Since the 1970s, researchers have wondered whether animals could have done this in rafts of plants. Since there were no land bridges connecting South America and Africa during the relevant period, this seems to be the only explanation. Earlier, the migration of animal species from the African mainland to Madagascar was also linked to that theory.
Apes near African river deltas are sometimes suspected of being trapped in floods. They cling to broken branches and other floating vegetation, and on a rare occasion make it across the ocean in a raft of vegetation.
Floating islands of vegetation
Even today, floating islands of vegetation can form during heavy storms. These natural rafts can grow very large and sometimes contain Even the fruit trees that are still standing. ‘An entire ecosystem can move along such a river,’ says Marivaux.
Animals have little chance of surviving an intercontinental journey on a plant boat. But it is not impossible. Madagascar’s lemurs and tenrex reached the island by boat from mainland Africa, and small lizards in the Bahamas are known to jump from island to island on floating plants.
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