Ancient Lemur Fossil Is Actually A Fish, Expert Finds

By Amir Khan on October 4, 2012 11:50 AM EDT

Lemur Fish
An ancient fossil long-thought to be that of a lemur without a nose is actually not a primate at all -- it's a fish. (Photo: University of Oregon)

An ancient fossil long-thought to be that of a lemur without a nose is actually not a primate at all -- it's a fish.

The fossil, first discovered in 1898 by fossil collector Pedro Scalabrini, was sent to naturalist Florentino Ameghino, who took a quick look at it and classified it as a member of the lemur family Lemuridae. He named it Arrhinolemur scalabrinii --"Scalabrini's lemur without a nose."

Brian Sidlauskas, an assistant professor of fisheries at Oregon State University, said Ameghino is a controversial figure in paleontology, and wanted to prove that mammals originated in South America. Basing his identification on only a bit of fossil encased in rock, he declared it a mammal to further his agenda, Sidlauskas told LiveScience.

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The single fossil of Arrhinolemur scalabrinii, dating back 9 million years ago, remains the only specimen ever found. The first suggestion that the specimen might actually be a fish came about in the 1940s, when paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson examined it.

Two years ago, a group of researchers decided to do a full taxonomic work-up on the fossil. Sidlauskas, alongside his colleagues, discovered that the fossil is actually a member of the Anostomidae family, a group of South American freshwater fish.

But the researchers said Ameghino's mistake is understandable. The fossil belongs to genus Leporinus, a group of fish that has mammal like teeth. Ameghino likely saw the teeth and concluded it was a mammal with no further study, researchers said.

Though the fossil doesn't show that mammals originated in South America, it does provide a clue into the development of fish in South America.

"It tells us something about biodiversity in the past, so now we know that 6 to 9 million years ago, a fish very much like the ones we have today was in that place and time," Sidlauskas told LiveScience.

The researchers published their results in the journal Neotropical Ichthyology.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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