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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1999 Jul;109(3):397-413.

Phalangeal morphology of the paromomyidae (?primates, plesiadapiformes): the evidence for gliding behavior reconsidered.

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1
Department of Anthropology, Kent State University, Ohio 44240, USA. mhamrick@kent.edu

Abstract

A comparative morphometric analysis of isolated proximal and intermediate phalanges attributed to the paromomyids Ignacius graybullianus and Phenacolemur simonsi was undertaken to test the hypothesis that these fossil phalanges exhibit evidence of a dermopteran-like interdigital patagium. Linear dimensions were collected for the fossil phalanges and a comparative sample of associated proximal and intermediate phalanges representing extant tree squirrels, tree shrews, dermopterans (colugos), gliding rodents and marsupials, and prosimian primates. Quantitative data indicate that the proximal and intermediate phalanges of paromomyids are most similar in their overall shape to those of the dermopteran Cynocephalus. The proximal phalanges of paromomyids and colugos possess well-developed flexor sheath ridges and broad, high shafts, whereas the intermediate phalanges of these taxa are most similar to one another in their trochlear morphology. Discriminant analysis indicates that all of the paromomyid intermediate phalanges resemble those from colugo toes more so than those from colugo fingers. Moreover, the relative length and midshaft proportions of both the proximal and intermediate phalanges of paromomyids closely resemble those of several squirrels that lack an interdigital patagium. The following conclusions are drawn from this study: 1) paromomyids share a number of derived phalangeal features with modern dermopterans that may be indicative of a phylogenetic relationship between them, 2) existing intermediate phalanges of paromomyids are inconsistent with the "mitten gliding" hypothesis because they do not possess the distinctive length and midshaft proportions characteristic of colugo manual intermediate phalanges, and 3) paromomyids share with colugos and the scaly-tailed squirrel Anomalurus several aspects of phalangeal morphology functionally related to frequent vertical clinging and climbing on large-diameter arboreal supports.

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