Media Releases

UTSC research gives new insight into prehistoric mammal

November 1, 2010

TORONTO, ON – A Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Scar­bor­ough (UTSC) researcher, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da, has pre­sent­ed new evi­dence of the evo­lu­tion­ary path of a 55-mil­lion-year-old North Amer­i­can mam­mal, sug­gest­ing  that it shares a com­mon ances­tor with rodents, rab­bits and pri­mates, includ­ing humans.
The study describes in detail the cra­nial anato­my of the extinct mam­mal, Labidole­mur kayi (L. kayi)  and appeared in the Oct. 11 online edi­tion of the Zoo­log­i­cal Jour­ney of the Lin­nean Soci­ety.  It gar­nered inter­na­tion­al inter­est in the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty.

With the high-qual­i­ty of the spec­i­mens and the use of high res­o­lu­tion CT scan­ners, researchers were able to glean a detailed analy­sis of var­i­ous aspects of the skull, includ­ing the minute path­ways of blood ves­sels and nerves, a lev­el of detail not pos­si­ble before.

Researchers said this new infor­ma­tion will help sci­en­tists bet­ter under­stand pri­mate evo­lu­tion in future stud­ies.
“It’s rare to find sam­ples of apate­myid skele­tons and skulls that are three-dimen­sion­al,” says study lead-author Mary Sil­cox, pro­fes­sor of social sci­ences at UTSC and research assis­tant at the Flori­da Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry. “Most of the time we find them com­plete­ly flat.”
Sci­en­tists have dis­put­ed the rela­tion­ships of Apate­myi­dae, the fam­i­ly that includes L. kayi, for more than a cen­tu­ry because of their unusu­al phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics. With can open­er-shaped upper front teeth  and two unusu­al­ly long skele­tal fin­gers, apate­myids have been com­pared to a vari­ety of ani­mals, from opos­sums to wood­peck­ers.

Like a woodpecker’s method of feed­ing, L. kayi used per­cus­sive for­ag­ing, or tap­ping on trees, to locate food much like the aye-aye lemurs of Mada­gas­car. After suc­cess­ful­ly locat­ing insects, L. kayi would gouge into the wood with their big teeth and then reach in with their very long fin­gers to pull out any grubs that might be hid­ing. It stood less than a foot tall, was capa­ble of jump­ing between trees and looked like a squir­rel. “They are pro­found­ly weird crit­ters,” said Sil­cox, “There aren’t a lot of oth­er exam­ples of eco­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions like this.”

Jonathan Bloch, an asso­ciate cura­tor of ver­te­brate pale­on­tol­ogy at the Flori­da Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da, Doug Boy­er of Brook­lyn Col­lege, and Peter Houde of New Mex­i­co State Uni­ver­si­ty also co-authored the study as part of the team’s larg­er research to under­stand the rela­tion­ships of pri­mates and their close kin to oth­er mam­mals. Sil­cox and her col­leagues are cur­rent­ly writ­ing a detailed analy­sis of L. kayi’s skele­ton.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Mary Sil­cox, lead author: 416–208-5132 or

Jonathan Bloch, co-author, 352–273-1938 or

Karen Ho, media and com­mu­ni­ca­tions assis­tant: 416–208-5149 or