Darwinius masillae

Part of the Extreme Mammals exhibition.

Skeleton, Messel, Germany, Eocene
Cast of Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Norway© AMNH/D. Finnin

This spectacular specimen (pictured) is one of the most complete and beautifully preserved primate fossils ever found. You can see almost every bone in the skeleton, outlines of skin and fur, as well as preserved stomach contents from the young animal's last meal of fruits and leaves.

This immature female Darwinius masillae, nicknamed Ida, somewhat resembles lemurs, an early branch of the primate evolutionary tree. Yet this species has many important differences (see Fun Facts), which may link it to another branch of the primate tree--the branch leading to tarsiers, monkeys and apes, including humans. Further analysis will help determine where this new species fits into the mammalian tree of life.

Fun Facts

  • Extinct: Lived about 47 million years ago in what is now Germany
  • Length: About 2 feet (58 centimeters), including tail
  • Closest living relatives: Primates, possibly the group including tarsiers, New and Old World monkeys, and great apes (including humans)
  • Fingers and toes have nails instead of claws
  • Hind feet lack "grooming claws" seen in lemurs
  • Lacks "tooth comb" seen in lemurs and lorises
  • Ankle bone features may link it with the branch of primates leading to tarsiers, monkeys, and apes including humans
  • Opposable big toes, like nearly all primates