Scientists from London and New York have successfully extracted DNA sample from a species of monkey long extinct at an excavation site in Jamaica.

The Xenothrix, a slow-moving tree dweller, is described to have few teeth and rodent legs. They are unlike any other monkeys that currently exist in the world and that is why scientists have found it difficult to pin down what it was related to and how it evolved.

The ancient DNA from bones excavated in a cave in Jamaica has revealed new insights about the creature's evolutionary history. The team of international researchers published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Xenothrix Arrived In Jamaica

Researchers believe that the ancestors of Xenothrix monkeys might have ended up in Jamaica from South America 11 million years ago onboard a floating vegetation. They might have floated down from the mouths of large South American rivers before eventually colonizing the island.

The large rodents called hutias, which still exist in Caribbean islands to this day, also floated on rafts of vegetation before arriving and then colonizing the area.

What Ancient Xenothrix DNA Reveals

Because of its appearance, it was a challenge to pin down which animals the Xenothrix were related to. However, with the ancient DNA extracted from the remains dug up in Jamaica, scientists finally have an answer.

The study revealed that titi monkeys, the small tree-dwelling monkeys that are typically found in South America, are the closest living relatives of the Xenothrix. The titi monkeys are active during the day and are extremely territorial.

"Ancient DNA indicates that the Jamaican monkey is really just a titi monkey with some unusual morphological features, not a wholly distinct branch of New World monkey," explained Rossa MacPhee, co-author of the study. "Evolution can act in unexpected ways in island environments, producing miniature elephants, gigantic birds, and sloth-like primates. Such examples put a very different spin on the old cliché that 'anatomy is destiny.'"

The Xenothrix had no natural predators when they arrived in the Caribbean islands, but they likely went extinct because of habitat loss and hunting.

The Caribbean islands have some of the most unusual species in the world. It also has the highest rate of mammal extinction due to habitat loss and hunting by both humans and animals brought to the islands by early settlers.

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