How monkeys migrated from South America to North America, some 21 million years agoTim Kennedy (Author) Published Date : Apr 22, 2016 15:02 ET
Monkeys resembling close to today s capuchins had achieved an astonishing feat by crossing some 160 km in the open ocean, some 21 million years ago, in the process of migrating from South to North America even before the two continents were combined.
Researchers have arrived at this conclusion after discovering seven little teeth in the course of excavations being carried out to expand the Panama Canal. The teeth now found belonged to a monkey species that was unknown previously when South America was a distinct continent, and various species had developed in isolated environs. However, it is unlikely that the monkeys swam across the 160 km channel, and it is more likely that they rafted across unintentionally on mats made up of vegetation.
The study has been published in Nature magazine on Wednesday. Jonathan Bloch, the lead author of the study, stated that researchers could never have predicted the presence of these monkeys here. According to the researchers, the teeth belonged to a species resembling the capuchins that were not discovered earlier and constituted the oldest evidence of the presence of monkeys in the North American continent.
Researchers also added that the surmise of the monkeys having used mats of vegetation for the unintended rafting around may not be as crazy as it sounded. In the first place, to reach South America, the monkeys had to journey from Africa. Most scientists today opine that this should have happened some 40 million years ago. The Atlantic possibly was somewhat narrower than it is today, but that cannot take away the credit for the adventurous trip. Possibly, the monkeys had perched on uprooted trees in the aftermath of a natural disaster like a storm.
Notably, these monkeys that crossed the Panama did not live long enough to be regarded the ancestors of modern day monkeys.
Another surmise by the researchers is that when the monkeys migrated, Panama could have had plants similar to those that were familiar to the monkeys in South America. They possibly found the fruits and other vegetation they were used to, and when they moved up north, they had to forego the favorite fruits.
Bloch added further in a statement that his team is expecting to find more fossils though time is running out on them. The project for expanding the Panama Canal has blasted through a significant amount of rainforest growth that are several million years old. This is also a very rare opportunity for such exciting discoveries
How monkeys migrated from South America to North America, some 21 million years ago