A gibbon is your 1 millionth cousin, 400,000 times removed

Over at Evolutionary Genealogy, Leonard Eisenberg has been thinking about how we're related to other animals. Not so much in the evolutionary sense, but in the familial sense. After all, if your cousin is simply the offspring of your parent's sibling, why not continue that logic back a few hundred millennia or so?

To make a rough estimate of the cousin and removal relationship between you and any other living thing, all one needs to do is count up the generations back to the common ancestor. This sounds easy in theory but is complicated in practice. First, make an estimate of the number of generations along the human line back to the common ancestor. Second, calculate the number of generations along the non-human branch back in time to a common ancestor with humans.

Evolutionary biologists and other nerds can argue the details of Eisenberg's number crunching here, as he's mindful of the flaws and has posted his raw data to encourage discussion. But if you just want to find out who should be invited to your mega-family reunion, take a look at the chart below!


More like this

A discussion of misconceptions in evolution ... about missing links, or great chains of being, or teleology (the idea that evolution is goal-directed) has got to be the most fun you can have with your pants on. Pursuant to this, let's sharpen and clarify our evolutionary theory mojo by considering…
In a recent Panda's Thumb comment thread, Pam asked (among other things) about our human species genetic Adam and Eve: I have been reading for the last few years now, that there is a consensus among the majority, that humans have been genetically traced to a two human ancestory: A genetic "Adam…
We now have a draft of the sea anemone genome, and it is revealing tantalizing details of metazoan evolution. The subject is the starlet anemone, Nematostella vectensis, a beautiful little animal that is also an up-and-coming star of developmental biology research. (click for larger image)…
Human infants have one important job during the first years of life, and that is to learn about the world and their culture from their parents and other caregivers. But what is learning? I've previously written that Hungarian developmental psychologists Gergely and Csibra have defined learning as…

This analysis needs explanations of exactly what 'cousin' and 'removed' mean.

From the numbers, I'm guessing that the level of cousinship might be the number of generations shared by both branches, and the degree of removal the number of excess generations on the branch with more generations.

From the OP:

If the common ancestor is just two generations back (in other words, a shared grandparent), that person is your first cousin. If the common ancestor is three generations back (in other words, a shared great grandparent) that person is your second cousin. That person's child would be your second cousin, once removed, and their grandchild your second cousin twice removed. If the common ancestor happens to be 500 generations back (in other words, a shared 498-greats-grandparent) that person is your 499th cousin.

Why thank you, I've been wondering about gibbons for a while now. They seem to have disappeared from almost all posts on primate evolution for some time.

I mean, they may not be great but they're still apes.

I've never been comfortable with gibbons. I am perfectly willing to extend suffrage to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans (being demonstrably more intelligent than many of our electorate), but gibbons?

What's wrong with gibbons? Any ape sensible enough to keep its testicles inside its body gets a vote from me.

This could be a useful comparison to answer the creationist argument that your grandmother doesn't look like a monkey, but then they also could argue about the millions of years bit.

Have linked to this - many thanks! Will be useful in lessons. And as far as the creationists bit... I think Bill Hicks got it right when he asked if anyone else had noticed how all creationists looked curiously unevolved?

What is the actual relationship between the walking styles of chimpanzees and humans? It can't be as simple as the sketch by Darwin, because his intermediates are not walkable positions.

Why is his sketch used as a logo of evolution? For that matter, why does a scientific theory have a logo at all?

That's my point. Pictures associated with science are supposed to be meaningful illustrations, and this isn't. It's a logo, and logos are supposed to be for religions. This logo, and also the fish-with-legs logo, do nothing but reinforce the Intelligent Design mentality.