In the latest development of the Panama Canal expansion, seven fossilized monkey teeth were discovered, pushing back the animals North American arrival by nearly 18 million years.
Researchers have long believed that monkeys migrated from Africa to South America by land bridge or a raft of debris — and remained there — about 30 million years ago. They only headed south after the complete formation of Panama’s Isthmus, some 3.5 million years ago.
According to the group that discovered the fossilized teeth, and subsequently released the findings online in April’s Nature, the fossilized teeth belonging to the newly described monkey species Panamacebus transitus and predate the Panamanian land bridge by millions of years.
The 21 million-year-old teeth were discovered on part of the isthmus, which at the time was a peninsula. This indicates that the P. transitus population traversed many kilometers of open water between South to North America, perhaps by raft — the oldest known intercontinental migration by over 12 million years.
Unfortunately, P. transitus ‘ continent-hopping exploits were likely short-lived: they seem unrelated to any monkeys presently residing in the area, suggesting that the initial population has died out.
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