Image of the Day: A Case of Mistaken Identity

By reevaluating a fossil species, researchers have developed a new theory for the lemur colonization of Madagascar.  

Aug 22, 2018
Sukanya Charuchandra
The aye-aye (Daubentonia) of Madagascar, thought to have descended from primates that colonized the island approximately 20 million years ago  
DAVID HARING, dharing@duke.edu

Researchers have reanalyzed a Kenyan fossil dating from the early Miocene epoch (between 23 million and 16 million years ago) that has been considered a fruit bat by popular opinion. The scientists argue instead that it is a relative of an aye-aye, a Madagascan lemur. The team studied the teeth of the “bat,” Propotto leakeyi, and a 34-million-year-old Egyptian primate fossil, called Plesiopithecus teras, and found the two to be related. 

Historically, researchers have believed that lemurs colonized Madagascar more than 50 million years ago. Given this new evidence published yesterday (August 21) in Nature Communications, the researchers propose the aye-ayes and other lemurs of Madagascar may have crossed over from Africa in two separate waves—one 20 million years ago and the other 50 million years ago. 

G.F. Gunnell et al., “Fossil lemurs from Egypt and Kenya suggest an African origin for Madagascar’s aye-aye,” Nat Commun, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-05648-w, 2018.