Scuba Divers Encounter Extinct Monkey Underwater

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Scuba divers were more than surprised when they encountered the remains of a 3,000-year-old extinct monkey in an underwater Dominican Republic cave. The discovery is outlined in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 

The long-deceased primate turns out to be an Hispaniola monkey, a species that died out in the 16th century, well after the lifetime of this particular individual.

Christopher Columbus may be indirectly blamed for the monkey wipe out, since his discovery of Hispaniola led to the island being settled by Europeans post-1492. This island primate species, and all other monkeys native to the region, went extinct not long thereafter, but no one is sure why yet. Disease, habitat loss, and becoming the favorite dinner for settlers are all possible causes.

(Hispaniola, once home to many non-human primates; Image Credit: Michelle Walz Eriksson)

The discovery of the fossils, which include one of the most complete monkey craniums ever found, help to boost the growing field of underwater paleontology. 

Check out a BBC video showing one of the divers retrieving the monkey's bones. He's carefully placing the fossils in a Tupperware container, probably one of the more unusual uses for the plastic-ware famous for its "burping seal."

Alfred Rosenberger, who led the research project, and his team hooked up with the scuba divers who made the original discovery to further investigate the primate's remains. 

Rosenberger, of Brooklyn College, told the BBC that the monkey is only the second specimen of the species Antillothrix bernensis ever to be found. Based on these two partial skeletons, the monkey's body length has been estimated at just 12 inches. 

Like the "little teapot" immortalized in song, the monkey was short and stout.

"Its femur or thigh bone was very thick," Rosenberger informed the BBC. "So it had sort of stout legs, which is something we didn't expect."

A New Scientist report helps to explain why this monkey possessed such unusual features, and how it fits into the primate family tree.