Biology » Vertebrates » The Evolution of Primates

Summarizing the Evolution of Primates

Summary

All primate species possess adaptations for climbing trees, as they all probably descended from tree-dwellers, although not all species are arboreal. Other characteristics of primates are brains that are larger than those of other mammals, claws that have been modified into flattened nails, typically only one young per pregnancy, stereoscopic vision, and a trend toward holding the body upright. Primates are divided into two groups: prosimians and anthropoids. Monkeys evolved from prosimians during the Oligocene Epoch. Apes evolved from catarrhines in Africa during the Miocene Epoch.

Apes are divided into the lesser apes and the greater apes. Hominins include those groups that gave rise to our species, such as Australopithecus and H. erectus, and those groups that can be considered “cousins” of humans, such as Neanderthals. Fossil evidence shows that hominins at the time of Australopithecus were walking upright, the first evidence of bipedal hominins. A number of species, sometimes called archaic H. sapiens, evolved from H. erectus approximately 500,000 years ago. There is considerable debate about the origins of anatomically modern humans or H. sapiens sapiens.

Glossary

anthropoid

monkeys, apes, and humans

Australopithecus

genus of hominins that evolved in eastern Africa approximately 4 million years ago

brachiation

movement through trees branches via suspension from the arms

Catarrhini

clade of Old World monkeys

Gorilla

genus of gorillas

hominin

species that are more closely related to humans than chimpanzees

hominoid

pertaining to great apes and humans

Homo

genus of humans

Homo sapiens sapiens

anatomically modern humans

Hylobatidae

family of gibbons

Pan

genus of chimpanzees and bonobos

Platyrrhini

clade of New World monkeys

Plesiadapis

oldest known primate-like mammal

Pongo

genus of orangutans

Primates

order of lemurs, tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and humans

prognathic jaw

long jaw

prosimian

division of primates that includes bush babies of Africa, lemurs of Madagascar, and lorises, pottos, and tarsiers of Southeast Asia

stereoscopic vision

two overlapping fields of vision from the eyes that produces depth perception

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