The well-preserved partial skull and skeleton of a gibbon-like creature that lived 11.6 million years ago in Spain is shedding new light on the evolutionary history of modern apesScientists on Thursday announced the discovery in Catalonia of fossil remains of a small, fruit-eating female ape that lived in a warm, wet forested region teeming with animals including elephant relatives, rhinos and sabre-toothed predators.They gave the ape, weighing 9-11 pounds (4-5 kg), the scientific name Pliobates cataloniae and the nickname “Laia.””There is no living primate like Pliobates, which exhibits a unique combination of modern ape-like features with other, more primitive ones,” said paleobiologist David Alba of the Catalan Institute of Palaeontology near Barcelona.”We can imagine a small ape, like the smallest living gibbons, with a gibbon-like appearance regarding the cranium but with different body proportions: less elongated arms and hands.”Alba said Pliobates, which lived during the Miocene epoch, moved through the forest canopy differently than today’s gibbons, using slow and cautious climbing, like a loris, a more primitive primate, while sometimes hanging below branches.
The remains include 70 bones or bone fragments including a skull exceptionally complete for a primate from that time.Its teeth look primitive compared to today’s apes including both the small-bodied “lesser apes” like gibbons and siamangs and the larger-bodied “great apes” like orang-utans, gorillas and chimpanzees. Its skull exhibits features including overall shape similar to today’s apes, although it more closely resembles gibbons than great apes. Its elbow and wrist are similar to today’s apes. But the external bony ear is more primitive than in living apes and monkeys.