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Temporal range: Late Eocene
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorrhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes (Anthropoidea)
Family: Parapithecidae
Genus: †Biretia
  • †Biretia piveteaui
  • †Biretia fayumensis
  • †Biretia megalopsis

Biretia is an extinct genus of Old World monkey, belonging to the extinct family Parapithecidae. Fossils are found from Late Eocene strata in Egypt.

The first discovery of Biretia was a single tooth dated to approximately 37 mya, which was found in 1988 at the Bir el Ater site in Algeria. This species was named Biretia piveteaui. In 2005, two new species were classified, B. fayumensis and B. megalopsis. Both were discovered at Birket Qarun Locality 2 (BQ-2), which is located about 60 mi south of Cairo in Egypt's Fayum depression.

A very small anthropoid, it only weighed around 280 to possibly 380 grams. Fragments from the jaw suggest that it had had very large eyes in proportion to its body size, which would suggest that it was nocturnal. "Biretia is unique among early anthropoids in exhibiting evidence for nocturnality, but derived dental features shared with younger parapithecids draw this genus, and possibly 45-million-year-old Algeripithecus (Strepsirrhini), into a morphologically and behaviorally diverse parapithecoid clade of great antiquity."[1]

The smallest of the species, B. fayumensis, had an estimated weight of 273 g, while the largest, B. megalopsis, had a weight of about 376g. Adaptations of the skull of B. megalopsis are easily comparable to the modern tarsiers, a small, modern Asian primate with a nocturnal insectivorous lifestyle. We can infer the possibility of a nocturnal lifestyle for B. megalopsis' from the truncated molar roots, which made room for large eye sockets typical of a nocturnal primate. The large eye structure and similarity to the modern tarsiers also suggests that it has lost its tapetum lucidum. Thus, B. megalopsis demonstrates itself as being the oldest known nocturnal primate.

The genus is otherwise known only from a handful of fossil fragments, including a few maxilla fragments and some teeth and teeth fragments from the different species.

The fossil fragments found for B. fayumensis, new species, include a composite of isolated P2 (DPC 21759C), P3 (DPC 21249E), P4 (DPC 21371A), M1 (DPC 21250D), and M2 (DPC 21539E)[citation needed]. For B. megalopsis, new species, maxilla with M1 through M3 (DPC 21358F).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tabuce Rodolphe, Marivaux Laurent (2004) “Mammalian interchanges between Africa and Eurasia: an analysis of temporal constraints on plausible anthropoid dispersals during the Paleogene” ANTHROPOLOGICAL SCIENCE Vol. 113, 27–32, 2005 Retrieved October 2009
  • Rossie, James B., Ni,Xijun, and Beard, K. Christopher (2006) “Cranial remains of an Eocene tarsier” PNAS. 2009 Retrieved October 2009
  • Gunnell Gregg F., Miller, Ellen R. (2001) “Origin of Anthropoidea: Dental Evidence and Recognition of Early Anthropoids in the Fossil Record, With Comments on the Asian Anthropoid Radiation” American Journal of Physical Anthropology Retrieved October 2009
  • Rasmussen D. Tab, Simons Elwyn L. (1992) “Paleobiology of the Oligopithecines, the Earliest Known Anthropoid Primates” International Journal of Primatology, VoL 13, No. 5, 1992 Retrieved October 2009
  • Simons Elwyn L, Seiffert Erik R., Chatrath Prithijit S., Attia Yousry (2001) “Earliest Record of a Parapithecid Anthropoid from the Jebel Qatrani Formation, Northern Egypt” Folia Primatol 2001;72:316–331 Retrieved October 2009
  • Seiffert Erik R., Simons Elwyn L.,Clyde William C.,Rossie James B., Attia Yousry Bown Thomas M., Chatrath Prithijit, Mathison Mark E. “Basal Anthropoids from Egypt and the Antiquity of Africa's Higher Primate Radiation” Science 14 October 2005: Vol. 310. no. 5746, pp. 300–304 Retrieved October 2009

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