Ida - the clue to primate evolution?

The discovery of Darwinius masillae

The discovery of a 47-million-year-old fossil of a lemur-like creature, Darwinius masillae, has given scientists an insight in to the evolution of early primates.  It was found in Messel Pit in Germany and, unlike many fossil primates, it is incredibly well-preserved.  Image © PLoS

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Why is Ida significant?

Dr Jerry Hooker is a fossil mammal expert at the Museum.

Dr Jerry Hooker, fossil mammal expert at the Museum, explains why Ida is so well-preserved and examines her features in detail.  A close look at her ankle bones, jaw and teeth shows her relationship to other primates.

But why is Ida, Darwinius masillae, so important? And what can she tell us about the early stages of primate evolution?

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Missing links

There is some debate about whether Ida is the 'missing link' between primates and the rest of the mammal kingdom.  A transitional form is the name scientists give to any species that bridges the gap between a new family on the tree of life and its ancestors.  

Transitional forms

Prof. Angela Milner is an expert in fossil dinosaurs and the origin of birds at the Museum.

Dr Angela Milner, Museum fossil expert, explains the importance of transitional forms and talks about some important examples, such as the intermediary between fish and amphibians. Angela also explains more about the fossil record, its gaps, how fossils are studied, and where Ida fits in.

Angela Milner discusses the fossil record

Famous missing link

A fossil of archaeopteryx, the link between dinosaurs and birds

Famous missing links that have been filled by past fossil finds include the link between dinosaurs and birds, which was made clear by the discovery of Archaeopteryx.  This fossil was also found in a quarry in Germany and it had both the feathers of a bird and the teeth and claws of a dinosaur.  

Archaeopteryx and the great debate

Why fossils matter

The skull of an extinct giant lemur in the Natural History Museum's collections

The fossil record tells us about species that used to live on Earth and helps us understand their relationship to species alive today.

The Museum has a collection of 9 million fossils that help scientists place new fossil discoveries correctly into the tree of life.