Introducing Ida - the great-great-great-great-grandmother (or aunt)

Another super-cool day at PLoS (one of those days when I wish I was not telecommuting, but sharing in the excitement with the colleagues at the Mothership) - the publication of a very exciting article describing a rarely well-preserved fossil of a prehistoric primate in a lineage to which we all belong as well:

Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology by Jens L. Franzen, Philip D. Gingerich, Jörg Habersetzer, Jørn H. Hurum, Wighart von Koenigswald and B. Holly Smith

The fossil, named Ida (the scientific name is Darwinius masillae, a new genus), was discovered in Messel Pit, Germany and lived around 47 million years ago. The fossil is 95% complete - an incredibly complete fossil for an early primate - and along with the skeleton also contains the outline of the body and the contents of the gut. From such rich information, the scientists were able to deduce that Ida was a herbivorous female of about nine months of age.

i-b81b42891db00c4624b30290c1c52bfd-Ida fig-s62.jpg

[The image is Fig. S6 of the PLoS ONE article, published under the Creative Commons Attribution License; any reuse should cite the authors and journal.]

Unlike lemurs, Darwinius masillae does not have a "toothcomb" and a "grooming claw," but like primates in the lineage that also contains humans, Ida has opposable big toes, nail-bearing fingers and toes, and a foot bone called the talus bone.

Check out Bex's blog post on everyONE for more details as well as the interactive Ida website and, of course, read the paper itself - 27 pages of details, Open Access, thus free for all to see!

As always, you should rate the article, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about this paper. You can also easily place this article on various social services (CiteULike, Connotea, Stumbleupon, Facebook, Digg and Mendeley) with just one click. Bex and I will collect all the media and blog coverage and post the links to the best on everyONE blog later this week, and that will be linked from the PLoS ONE homepage as well.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank the PLoS ONE production team who did a tremendous job in getting the paper out in record time. Despite the paper being available for only minutes, the mainstream media has already run with the story. I expect that science bloggers, with their expertise, will provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the paper (and skip the silly "missing link" trope) once they digest the scientific information in the paper.

Here is a snapshot of media/blog coverage of this article:

WSJ: Fossil Discovery Is Heralded

NYTimes (Media & Advertising section): Seeking a Missing Link, and a Mass Audience

Science Insider: World's Most Overhyped Science Headline?

Science Insider: World's Most Overhyped Science Headline, Part 2

Evolving Thoughts: There is no missing link

Laelaps: A Discovery That Will Change Everything (!!!) ... Or Not

Neuron Culture: Human Descent from Lemurs? Could be, sortalike

80beats: Did a Strangely Human-Like Primate Give Rise to Monkeys, Apes, and Us?

Gawker: Scientists Find Missing Link: It's a Fameball

ABC News: Primate Fossil Could Be Key Link in Evolution

BBC News: Scientists hail stunning fossil

SKY News: Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution

Framing Science: The Link? 'Going Broad' with Darwinius masillae

A Blog Around The Clock: Introducing Ida - the great-great-great-great-grandmother (or aunt)

Guardian: Fossil Ida: extraordinary find is 'missing link' between humans and mammals

Times Online: Fossil find provides 'missing link' in human evolution

BBC videos: 'Stunning' fossil find unveiled

Cryptozoology Online: Daily News: Scientists hail stunning fossil

Pound 360: New primate fossil incredibly odd and out of place

Selling Tomorrows: 47-million-year-old fossil enters 24-hour news cycle

Quick Daily Hits -- Politics and Such: 'Missing Link': Scientists Plan to Use Hype to Sell Faith in Evolution

The Evilutionary Biologist: Missing Link Found?

-Towleroad News-: 'Missing Link' in Human Evolution Found, Say Scientists

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Media Hype About "Darwinius Masillae"

Coffee and Sci(ence): Darwinius masillae

Terra incognita: Darwinius masillae

ScienceDaily: Common Ancestor Of Humans, Modern Primates? 'Extraordinary' Fossil Is 47 Million Years Old

Providence Daily Dose: Kids, Say Hi to Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma

Lenta-Ru: УÑенÑе показали "недоÑÑаÑÑее звено" Ð¼ÐµÐ¶Ð´Ñ Ð¾Ð±ÐµÐ·ÑÑной и Ñеловеком

DailyMail: Scientists find the 'missing link': a 47million-year-old lemur that could revolutionise how we see human evolution

Starts With a Bang: A Missing Link Found!

Neurodojo: Roll the bones

Neurodojo: Roll the bones, continued

TimesOnline blogs: The Ida fossil: spectacular or hype?

World international news: Scientists unveil stunning fossil

Evolving Complexity: Darwinius masillae on PLOS 1

Beast ape & the bleeding heart baboons: Most complete fossil primate, Darwinius masillae

it is NOT junk: Unfortunate lack of links in the NY Times

The Intersection: Meet 'Ida': Our 47 Million Year Old Ancestor

Pro-science: Exciting new primate fossil discovery Scientists hail stunning fossil

TED Blog: Darwin validated: Missing link found

Laelaps: Poor, poor Ida, Or: 'Overselling an Adapid'

Cubbi: Even when the media is pro-science, it does it disservice

Pharyngula: Darwinius masillae


That Shallow Fellow: Introducing Ida: Major Primate Fossil Find For Evolution, Sketchy Salesmanship

Knight Science Tracker: NYTimes, etc: Big day for Darwinius masillae, and also for Publicityhoundus missinglinkextravaganserooza

The Observatory, CJR: The Mediacene Age

Framing Science: Darwinius masillae: Is The Hype a Bigger Story than the Science?

Gene Expression: 'Missing link' hype & science

The Science Pundit: Meet Ida!

Guardian: To get a glimpse of the Ida fossil, the media make monkeys of themselves

The Loom: Darwinius: It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens, and it finds that slipper that's been at large under the chaise lounge for several weeks...

Panda's Thumb: Darwinius masillae

Coyote Crossing: Darwinius masillae

The Open Source Paleontologist: About That Adapid. . .Or, Hype In the Digital Age

DailyKos: Sarah Palin meet Ida Paleo

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Darwinius changes everything

Evolving Thoughts: No, it's not an ancestor either (probably)

Guardian: The palaeontologist who brought fossil Ida to the world

Tom Paine's Ghost: Ida - the Missing Link?

Migrations: Darwinius masillae

Why Evolution is True: Paleontology and the media

Who Does John Gregson Think He Is?: #precambrian Oh hai @rabbits

Lancelet: Nice fossil, shame about the name...

A simple prop: Darwninius masillae gets out of control

Woo University: Sweet Ida

Ecographica: Ida and the Jurassic Park Effect

The Loom: Does Darwinius Exist?

Why Evolution Is True: Has the name Darwinius masillae been published? And if so, by who?

Wikipedia: Darwinius masillae

Slashdot: Ancient Fossil Offers Clues To Primate Evolution

That Shallow Fellow: Putting Ida Fossil in Perspective, Putting Creationists in their Place

KSJ Tracker: Celebrity Inkstorm: Ida's debut gets the klieg-lit, full-on publicity push

The Red Notebook: No, no, no! I said, 'Let's SEX up this Darwinius press release!'

The Opinionator: Let's Not Go Ape Over Ida

Framing Science: Darwinius masillae Among Most Blogged Stories at NY Times

60-Second Science Blog: Hey, hey, we're the monkey-like primates! The missing link that ignited a media backlash

Ego sum Daniel: The ONE fossil

The Knowledge Emporium: Ida

Greg Laden: Ida the Fossil Primate

Erik Svensson Research Laboratory: 'Ida': a new triumph for PLoS ONE

Observations of a Nerd: Oh Ida!

Biology in Science Fiction: The Missing Link and other Science Fictions

Chinleana: Here We Go Again: Darwinius, the ICZN, and the Online Publication of Taxonomic Names

Kevin Drum: Hiding Ida

Thoughts from Kansas: Secrecy in science

Pharyngula: Creationists freak out over Darwinius

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: The Hollywoodization of Science

NGM Blog Central: Darwinius and the Real Missing Link

The Scientist: Fossil Frenzy

Framing Science: Interview w/ The Scientist on Ida's Media Strategy

Doc Bushwell's Chimp Refuge: Creationists react to Darwinius masillae

Hominin Dental Anthropology: Good Old Ida, or Darwinius masillae

Sandwalk: The Darwinius Affair

On Research...: Darwinius exaggeratus . . .

I, Editor: Missing Links

The Primate Diaries: Breaking the Chain

Savage Minds: Ida, Sweet as Apple Cidah, and 47 Million times as old

microecos: Monophyly FAIL

A Developing Passion: Genealogical links from early primates to Moors to you

DinoGoss: The Up Side of Hype

Chinleana: Here we go again: redux

A Primate of Modern Aspect: Is a new adapid a 'Missing Link'?

Cryptomundo: Missing Link Ida: Media Darling

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub: Ida, our only Darwinius masillae: Are we a lemur's nephews and neices?

Fish matters: Today's buzz

Fish matters: Darwinius masillae available

The Loom: Does Darwinius Exist, Revisited: The Official Word Is...Not Yet.

The Loom: Science Held Hostage

The Loom: Darwinius: Named at Last!

Laelaps: Good news and bad news

Laelaps: Getting to know "Ida"

More like this

The exceptionally preserved skeleton of Darwinius, known popularly as "Ida." From PLoS One.Last month an international team of paleontologists lifted the veil on one of the most spectacular fossils ever discovered; a 47-million-year-old primate they named Darwinius masillae. It was a major event,…
Many thanks to everyone who has read, commented, and promoted my posts on "Ida", the 'missing link' that wasn't. I have been floored by the response - over 25,000 visits in the last 24 hours; being mentioned on Wikipedia; being quoted on Slashdot; and being picked up by blogs on the Guardian, the…
Yesterday, the entire world changed noticeably as the media, accompanied by some scientists, unveiled a stunning fossilised primate. The creature has been named Darwinius masillae, but also goes by Ida, the Link, the Chosen One and She Who Will Save Us All. The new fossil is remarkably complete…
A restoration of the extinct adapid Darwinius, known popularly as "Ida." From PLoS One. . So the big day is finally here. "Ida", a 47-million-year-old primate skeleton from Messel, Germany has finally been unveiled on PLoS One and in a flurry of press releases, book announcements, and general media…

Despite the paper being available for only minutes, the mainstream media has already run with the story.

And this is a good thing how? What about a dead animal's bones is so time-critical that stories have to be shot onto the news wires with all the speed of children running to the ice-cream truck? Why do businesses who just want to make a buck off attracting eyeballs get access before trained experts who explain and discuss science because they love it?

Terrific illustration - glanced over the acknowledgements, that's by Anika Hebs?

(Sorry, it's my myopia - I always like to know the illustrator's names.)

Bora, as a PLoS guy, what do you make of Brian's criticisms at Laelaps:

This is a shame. I would have hoped that this fossil would receive the care and attention it deserves, but for now it looks like a cash cow for the History Channel. Indeed, this association may not have only presented overblown claims to the public, but hindered good science, as well. As Karen James has suggested, the overall poor quality of the paper and the disproportionate hyping of the find make me wonder if this research was rushed into publication so that the media splash would occur on time. The paper tried to cover so much, so quickly, and contained so many shortfalls that I honestly have to wonder why it was allowed to be published in such a state. Perhaps we will never know, but I am sickened by the way in which a cable network has bastardized a legitimately fascinating scientific discovery, with the scientists themselves going along with it every step of the way. I can only hope that Darwinius will eventually receive the careful analysis it deserves.

As always, you should rate the article, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about this paper.

I'm probably not going to blog about this paper, but I have some of questions about comments at PLoS, and this seems the likeliest (least unlikely) place to ask them.

1. I'm at Blogger/Blogspot, and I've placed several trackback comments as best I could understand the instructions, they just seem to be sitting there, and I don't see the trackback. I'm sure there's something I haven't understood. Can you tell me what?

2. In a recent blog post I was a little critical, not of the research itself, but the paradigm and the language that went into the research. What I'm wondering is if I should try to summarize my arguments in the comment, mention them and refer to my blog post, or just post the trackback without saying anything?

SteveF: This paper was reviewed by several experts, and as a result of their input the academic editor felt that it met our editorial criteria ( If people feel the paper is deficient in some way they should leave comments on the paper for a public debate.

AK: Blogger/Blogspot does not support trackbacks. Either strategy is fine - drop the permalink into a comment with or without a brief blurb.

Thanks for the reply Bora. My issue is less that there is something specifically wrong with the paper, more the surrounding hype. There is an extraordinary amount of associated noise and whilst this is a good thing to some extent, raising the profile of evolutionary biology, it has the potential to backfire.

Brian has already pointed out some possible problems and other researchers have urged caution in the face of hyperbole from the media and (regrettably) some scientists themselves. Inevitably the fossil will fail to live up to its billing. And that will expose evolutionary biology to the anti-science advocates. For a taste of what to expect:

Now, I'm not sure the extent to which PLoS has contributed to this, but the overall picture is cause for concern as a number of people are already noting. Furthermore, away from the creationism issue, if the hype falls flat, do you not believe that this could cause issues for the reputation of PLoS One? As someone in favour of the journal, this worries me somewhat.

Am trying to figure out how the branching of the
Strepsirrhini and the Haplorrhini is such a major story.
The missing link in human evolution? A 47 million year
old species which may be the ancestor of just about all
monkeys is the missing link?

By Ajoy K.T. (not verified) on 19 May 2009 #permalink

A correction. This organisms may be a primate, it may be related to extant organisms, but no extant organism is descended from it. It is a female and died before giving birth. She had no descendents.

Hence the (aunt) in my title.

Of course, Ida is used a representative of a species, so saying the "ancestor" is a shorthand, implying 'ancestral species' not 'ancestral individual'.

The line I heard on MSNBC last night that had me screaming at my telly was "A breakthrough that could finally confirm Darwin's Theory of Evolution."

Sweet Suffering Spaghetti Monster, how many ways is that wrong?


2 Mar 2010 ... Science News. Share Blog Cite. Print Email Bookmark. 'Missing Link' Fossil Was Not Human Ancestor as Claimed, Anthropologists Say ...

Yeah, yeah, the opposing camp with their own pet fossil is on the counter-attack. Who cares.