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Early Primates

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Early Primates

Pilcher (2013) poses a question regarding how the earliest primates looked like as compared with the current ones. The author then addresses the issue how evolution changed the primates to assume the form they currently exhibit. For instance, the author wonders why the current primates (humans included) have both eyes facing forward and how opposable thumbs developed to be what they look like at present. Besides, the author is questioning what environmental aspects led primates to develop certain features that no other species exhibit. However, there is an evidently missing link between the time when dinosaurs disappeared around 66 million years ago and when the first species of primates emerged55 million years ago. From the skeleton of the arboreal acrobat found in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming, it can be concluded that the reason why current primates have their special features that paved the way for human evolution must have been to find food and hide from predators.

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The first aspect reflected in Pilcher’s paper is that of forward-facing eyes. While some anthropologists claim that the eyes were meant to judge distance while jumping from branch to branch, it appears that such point of view cannot be relevant given that there are animals that have no difficulties hopping and jumping in trees without forward-facing eyes. In this aspect, the author does a good job of not disputing this point fully as that there is no direct evidence disputing it. For instance, it could have been that the other animals that did not evolve forward-facing eyes like primates existed in environments different from those of primates. In particular, primates are mostly heavier than the other animals living in the branches (Pilcher 2013, p. 43). Thus, they could have existed in thicker forage area hence the need for forward-facing eyes.

Another point regarding the forward-facing eyes is that the primates developed them to catch insects that were mostly at a short distance from them. Matt Cartmill argues that the double vision created by forward-facing eyes was to estimate shorter distances, since most insects are caught by predators in flight. This point, though it makes sense, cannot be a reason considering the development of an important a feature like the position of eyes in a skull. Such features take millions of years to develop. Therefore, in my opinion, the point is highly disputable. Another point of view presented in this paper is that the forward-facing eyes were developed to see through thick forage, as explained by the finger-before-eyes example. I consider that this point has the highest level of supporting evidence from the paper. Therefore, it is the most sensible of all those presented in this article. For instance, the other species of animals, such as cheetahs and owls, have also developed forward-facing eyes for the same reason. In essence, forward-facing eyes were developed to seek food and hide from predators (especially the former).

An intriguing point of the paper concerns the shape of limbs in primates. Personally, I always wondered why primates had sensitive pads apart from the opposable thumb. This paper explains this point clearly (although as a side patch to the main debate). The pads were developed to manipulate food from fine branches together with digits and nails. More interesting, however, is the point that flowering plants played an important role in the evolution of primates. As primates ate more fruits and plant products, according to the article flowering plants developed bigger fruits and flowers. The two plant and animal speciees helped each other develop: primates found food, while fruits found reliable means of survival through dispersion of seeds.

The last remarkable aspect of the paper is the origin of the special features (and primates as a whole). First, the author states that 11 million years between the demise of dinosaurs and the earliest primates ever documented is enough for many evolutionary traits to develop. The missing evidence between the earliest species and primates would clearly solve this dilemma. Second, finding evidence is difficult. Identifying the continent from which the missing fossils are to be found is a complicated task in itself. While there are primate fossils in almost all continents, the fossils from the missing 11 million years cannot be pinpointed yet (Hartwig, 2002, p. 1). The earlier fossils can be found in India and Africa, while the later fossils are found in North America, China, and Europe. As a result of the missing link, the reason why primates developed the current special features may remain a paradox for a long time.

In conclusion, the most basic and sensible reason why primates developed special features is that they needed to eat and not be eaten. All the theories that are provided in this paper focus on these points. Almost all animals play the double role of being a predator and prey at the same time. The information doubted here bases on verifiable evidence hence valid when making anthropology arguments. Given that fossils can be accurately back-dated through scientific methods, it is hoped that time will enable humanity to pinpoint the missing link in the development of primates. Thus, a complete story shall be documented, which will be the history of the evolution of many other species given that primates are the most intelligent of all.

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