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New Extinct Lemur Species Discovered In Madagascar
P.kelyus maxilla fragment, removed from its matrix. (Credit: Copyright D.
Gommery- MAPPM & CNRS)
ScienceDaily (May 27, 2009) — A third species of Palaeopropithecus, an extinct
group of large
lemurs, has just been uncovered in the northwest of Madagascar by a
Franco-Madagascan team. Dubbed Palaeopropithecus kelyus, this
new specimen is smaller than the two species of these 'large sloth
lemurs' already known and its diet made up of harder-textured
foodstuffs. This discovery supports the idea of a richer biodiversity
in recent prehistory (late Pleistocene and beginning of the Holocene).
Madagascar, where natural environments show a high level of
endemism, is one of the last great biodiversity sanctuaries in the
world. The island is home to a special group of primates, the lemurs.
There are presently 15 genera and 71 species of these small mammals on
The genus Palaeopropithecus is a group of subfossil giant lemurs(2). Up until
now, two species had been described: P. ingens (in 1898) and P. maximus (in
1903). Palaeopropithecus have very specific adaptations, notably
for locomotion, as they moved from branch to branch using all four
limbs, with their head downwards, in a similar way to today's South
Recent discoveries by the MAPPM(1) on sites in northwest Madagascar have
established the existence of a third species of Palaeopropithecus, which has
been dubbed P. kelyus. Scientists have suspected the existence of this species
for more than
20 years. P. kelyus, whose weight is estimated around 35 kg, is smaller
than the two known Palaeopropithecus species, but is very large in
comparison with the largest living lemur, the Indri, which weighs only
The other main difference of this new species is that its teeth are
smaller. Its dental characteristics could be described from theP. kelyus
subfossil maxilla fragment, showing a crista obliqua, a parastyle and a
highly developed mesostyle. This morphology is reminiscent of the
present day Propithecus genus. While other Palaeopropithecus must have
fed on leaves and fruit, the differences in the teeth of P. kelyus suggest that
this animal could chew much tougher foods (notably seeds) compared with the
other two known species. P. kelyus was found in an area of northwest Madagascar
(Boeny region, Mahajanga
province) with the particularity of being situated between large bays
and rivers. This topography could have isolated P. kelyus from the
other two species of Palaeopropithecus, one of which lived more in the
south or centre, and the other in the north of Madagascar.
In the ‘evolution laboratory' that Madagascar represents, the
discovery of this third Palaeopropithecus contributes to our
understanding of the subfossil fauna species. More broadly, such work
also includes the study of the island's human population.
(1) The project ‘Mission archéologique et paléontologique dans la
province de Mahajanga' (MAPPM) is a Franco-Madagascan collaboration
between CNRS UPR 2147 (Dynamique de l'Évolution Humaine: Individus,
Populations, Espèces) and UFR Mozea Akiba of Université de Mahajanga,
funded by the Sous-direction de l'archéologie et de la recherche en
sciences sociales of the French Ministry of Foreign and European
Affairs, CNRS and Université de Mahajanga.
(2) Subfossils are species that died out during the historic or
prehistoric eras and overlapped present-day species. Unlike classic
fossils, their bones are not completely mineralised.
The results, currently available online, will be published in the Comptes
Rendus Palevol (Académie des Sciences), July-August 2009.
1. Dominique Gommery, Beby Ramanivosoa, Sabine Tombomiadana-Raveloson,
Hervé Randrianantenaina, Patrice Kerloc'h. Une nouvelle espèce de lémurien
géant subfossile du Nord-Ouest de Madagascar (Palaeopropithecus kelyus,
Primates). Comptes Rendus Palevol, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2009.02.001
Adapted from materials provided by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange).
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