Monday, May 18, 2015

Varona's Fossil Monkey Paralouatta varonai from the Cuban Quaternary


Cuba's fossil monkey Paralouatta varonai Rivero and Arredondo 1991 

The following post is truly my first blog post collaboration. It deals with the interesting and important discovery of fossil monkey remains in Cuba, as described by one of its discoverers in its native Spanish. But first, let me introduce the author of that post.

Mr. Osvaldo Jiménez Vázquez is a mastozoologist, zooarchaeologist, and paleontologist specialized in Cuban and other Caribbean vertebrates. He is currently working at the Gabinete de Arqueología, a special section within the Historian's Office of scenic Old Havana, in Cuba. There he is involved in the restoration and analyzes of the faunal remains found in the old city. Other research takes him to other regions of the island where, like me, he is involved in cave exploration and the paleontology of cave deposits.

He has participated and collaborated with international scientists, for instance from the AMNH in New York, in localizing the fossil monkeys, the centerpiece of his post, and few of the Caribbean's oldest fossil vertebrates.

It is a true honor and a pleasure for me to share Osvaldo's first-hand account of such important discovery and lifelong dedication to the understanding of Cuba's fossil fauna.

Thus, without much further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce and post the work of Osvaldo.

Paralouatta varoni Rivero and Arredondo 1991 skull and mandible.

Brief Gist on Cuban Fossil Monkeys

The Cuban fossil monkeys were discovered in 1986 by groups of the Speleological Society of Cuba, then directed by Dr. Antonio Nunez Jimenez. Osvaldo had the great fortune to participate and discover some of these fossils himself.

These were particularly important and unexpected fossils. The first fossil monkeys from the Greater Antilles had been described by the Argentinian paleontologist Florentino Ameghino in 1911 and named Montaneia anthropomorpha based on loose teeth discovered by Luis Montane in 1888, in the hills of Banao, in what is now Santi Spiritus province. However, these, and despite Gerrit S. Miller's identification of said teeth as the Equatorial Ateles in 1916, it was not until MacPhee and Rivero (1996) radiocarbon dated one of those specimens to 300 years before the present that Montaneia was finally removed from the list of Cuban extinct fauna (see Silva et al., 2007:109-110 and references therein). The interesting teeth found by Montane were likely from a imported Ateles fusciceps (robustus?) escapee (MacPhee and Rivero, 1996) and thus, they did not represent a native form (MacPhee and Rivero, 1996).

Varona's fossil monkey Paralouatta varonai described by Rivero and Arredondo in 1991 in the prestigious Journal of Human Evolution (number 21) is now know from fossilized remains representing most the skeleton (see also the extensive study and references given in Silva et al., 2007). Anatomically Paralouatta varonai was a large monkey in comparison to the other Caribbean fossil monkeys and some of its continental brethren. It could probably howl like the Howler monkeys of the Neotropics, but they did not brachiate (the branch-hand to hand swing often observed in gibbons or spider monkeys). Varona's monkey was likely semi-terrestrial, likely feeding on fruits and leafs.

A similar monkey, Paralouatta marianae MacPhee and Iturralde-Vinent, 1995 was discovered in shallow marine sediments of the Zaza formation of Central Cuba, dated to the early Miocene. The holotype of this magnificent specimen was discovered by Osvaldo Jimenez Vazquez in 1993, during a joint expedition with Cuban and American scientists. This is one of the most extraordinary fossil finds, and truly one of the oldest land vertebrates remains found in the Greater Antilles! See his post on that discovery here.

Several of Osvaldo Jimenez publications include:

Brochu, A. and Osvaldo Jiménez Vázquez. 2014. Enigmatic crocodyliforms from the Early Miocene of Cuba. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 34 (5): 1094-1101.

MacPhee, R. D. E., M. Iturralde-Vinent, and Osvaldo Jiménez Vázquez. 2007. Prehistoric sloth extinctions in Cuba: implications of a new “last” occurrence date. Caribbean Journal of Science, 43 (1): 94-98.

MacPhee, R. D. E., I. Horovitz, O. Arredondo, and Osvaldo Jimenez Vazquez. 1995. A new genus for the extinct Hispaniolan monkey Saimiri bernensis (Rimoli, 1977), with notes on its systematic position. American Museum Novitates, 3134: 21 pp.
Jiménez Vázquez, Osvaldo, M. M. Condis Fernández, y E. García Cancio. 2005. Vertebrados post-glaciales en un residuario fósil de Tyto alba scopoli (Aves: Tytonidae) en el occidente de Cuba. Revista Mexicana de Mastozoología, 9: 85-112.

Jiménez Vázquez, O. 2005. La Cueva del Infierno: Tafonomia de un sitio arqueológico de tradición mesolítica. Boletín del Gabinete de Arqueología 4.

Jimenez Vazquez, O, and J. Fernandez Milera. 2002. Canidos precolumbinos de las Antillas: mitos y verdades. Boletín del Gabinete de Arqueología, 2 (2): 78-87.

Jiménez Vázquez, O. 2001. Registro ornitológico en un residuario de dieta de aborígenes pre cerámicos cubanos. El Pitirre, 1 (3).

Jiménez Vázquez, O. 1997. Seis nuevos registros de aves fósiles en Cuba. El Pitirre, 10(2): 49.

Cited Literature in text

MacPhee, R. D. E., and Rivero de la Calle, M. 1996. AMS 14C age determination for the alleged "Cuban spider monkey," Ateles (=Montaneia) anthropomorpha. Journal of Human Evolution.

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