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J Hum Evol. 2005 Jul;49(1):36-55.

The hands and feet of Archaeolemur: metrical affinities and their functional significance.

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Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8081, USA.


Recent expeditions to Madagascar have recovered abundant skeletal remains of Archaeolemur, one of the so-called "monkey lemurs" known from Holocene deposits scattered across the island. These new skeletons are sufficiently complete to permit reassembly of entire hands and feet--postcranial elements crucial to drawing inferences about substrate preferences and positional behavior. Univariate and multivariate analysis of intrinsic hand and foot proportions, phalangeal indices, relative pollex and hallux lengths, phalangeal curvature, and distal phalangeal shape reveal a highly derived and unique morphology for an extinct strepsirrhine that diverges dramatically from that of living lemurs and converges in some respects on that of Old World monkeys (e.g., mandrills, but not baboons or geladas). The hands and feet of Archaeolemur are relatively short (extremely so relative to body size); the carpus and tarsus are both "long" relative to total hand and foot lengths, respectively; phalangeal indices of both the hands and feet are low; both pollex and hallux are reduced; the apical tufts of the distal phalanges are very broad; and the proximal phalanges are slightly curved (but more so than in baboons). Overall grasping capabilities may have been compromised to some extent, and dexterous handling of small objects seems improbable. Deliberate and noncursorial quadrupedalism was most likely practiced on both the ground and in the trees. A flexible locomotor repertoire in conjunction with a eurytopic trophic adaptation allowed Archaeolemur to inhabit much of Madagascar and may explain why it was one of the latest surviving subfossil lemurs.

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