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A primate is a member of the biological order Primates, the group that contains lemurs, the aye-aye, lorisids, galagos, tarsiers, monkeys, and apes, with the last category including great apes. With the exception of humans, who inhabit every continent on Earth, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa and Asia. Primates range in size from the 30-gram (1 oz) pygmy mouse lemur to the 200-kilogram (440 lb) mountain gorilla. According to fossil evidence, the primitive ancestors of primates may have existed in the late Cretaceous period around 65 mya (million years ago), and the oldest known primate is the Late Paleocene Plesiadapis, c. 55–58 mya. Molecular clock studies suggest that the primate branch may be even older, originating in the mid-Cretaceous period around 85 mya.

Primates exhibit a wide range of characteristics. Some primates do not live primarily in trees, but all species possess adaptations for climbing trees. Locomotion techniques used include leaping from tree to tree, walking on two or four limbs, knuckle-walking, and swinging between branches of trees (known as brachiation). Primates are characterized by their large brains relative to other mammals. These features are most significant in monkeys and apes, and noticeably less so in lorises and lemurs. Many species are sexually dimorphic, which means males and females have different physical traits, including body mass, canine tooth size, and coloration.

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Pachylemur is an extinct, giant lemur most closely related to the ruffed lemurs of genus Varecia. Two species are known, Pachylemur insignis and Pachylemur jullyi, although there is some doubt as to whether or not they may actually be the same species. Pachylemur is sometimes referred to as the giant ruffed lemur, because although it and the living ruffed lemurs had similar teeth and skeletons, Pachylemur was more robust and as much as three to four times larger. DNA studies have confirmed a sister group relationship between these two types of lemur. Like living ruffed lemurs, Pachylemur specialized in eating fruit, and was therefore an important seed disperser, possibly for tree species with seeds too large for even ruffed lemurs to swallow. In the spiny thickets of southwestern Madagascar, they were also likely to have dispersed seeds evolved to attach to fur and be carried away. Unlike ruffed lemurs, the fore- and hindlimbs of Pachylemur were nearly the same length, and therefore it was likely to be a slow, deliberate climber. However, both used hindlimb suspension to reach fruit on small branches below them.

Like other lemurs, Pachylemur was only found on the island of Madagascar, and its subfossil remains have been found primarily at sites in the central and southwestern parts of the island. Fragmentary and indeterminate remains have also been found in northern Madagascar. Pachylemur once lived in diverse lemur communities within its range, but in many of these locations, 20% or fewer of the original lemur species remain. Pachylemur went into decline following the arrival of humans in Madagascar around 350 BCE. Habitat loss, forest fragmentation, and bushmeat hunting are thought to have been the reasons for its disappearance. Pachylemur is thought to have gone extinct between 680–960 CE, although subfossil remains found in a cave pit in southwestern Madagascar may indicate that it survived up until 500 years ago.

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Cscr-featured.svg Credit: Richard Bartz

The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) is a large strepsirrhine primate and the most recognized lemur due to its long, black and white ringed tail. It belongs to Lemuridae, one of five lemur families, and is the only member of the Lemur genus. Like all lemurs it is endemic to the island of Madagascar. Known locally in Malagasy as maky (spelled maki in French) or hira, it inhabits gallery forests to spiny scrub in the southern regions of the island. It is omnivorous and the most terrestrial of lemurs. The animal is diurnal, being active exclusively in daylight hours.

Primates News

Archives: 2009



  • August 4 - Orangutans may be going deep to deter predators, and some are even using tools to sound more intimidating, a new study says. Read more
  • August 3 - The most malignant known form of malaria may have jumped from chimpanzees to humans, according to a new study of one of the most deadly diseases in the world. Read more


  • July 28 - Mani the monkey uses her own mysterious methods to tend dozens of goats without any supervision or training, according to the Associated Press. Read more
  • July 8 - Monkeys can form sentences and speak in accents—and now a new study shows that our genetic relatives can also recognize poor grammar. Read more


Selected species

Homo floresiensis ()
Status iucn3.1 EX.svg
Extinct (IUCN 3.1)|Extinct

Homo floresiensis is a possible species in the genus Homo, remarkable for its small body and brain and for its survival until relatively recent times. It was named after the Indonesian island of Flores on which the remains were found. The species is thought to have survived on Flores until at least as recently as 12,000 years ago making it the longest-lasting non-modern human, surviving long past the Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) which became extinct about 24,000 years ago. Local geology suggests that a volcanic eruption on Flores approximately 12,000 years ago was responsible for the demise of H. floresiensis, along with other local fauna, including the dwarf elephant Stegodon.

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