Temporal range: 12–9 Ma
|Mandible fragment of D. fontani from Saint-Gaudens, France (Middle Miocene, 11,5 My) ; cast from Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris|
Dryopithecus was a genus of apes that is known from East Africa into Eurasia during the late Miocene period. The first species of Dryopithecus was discovered at the site of Saint-Gaudens, Haute-Garonne, France, in 1856. Other dryopithecids have been found in Hungary, Spain, and China.
Like Sivapithecus, Dryopithecus was suspensory, had a large brain and a delayed development; but, unlike the former, it had a gracile jaw with thinly enameled molars and suspensory forelimbs. The similarities and differences between them provide insight into the timing and paleogeography of hominin origins and the phylogenetic divide between Asian and Afro-European great apes.
Dryopithecus was about 4 feet long and more closely resembled a monkey than a modern ape. The structure of its limbs and wrists show that it walked in a way similar to modern chimpanzees but that it used the flat of its hands, like a monkey, rather than knuckle-walking like modern apes. Its face exhibited klinorhynchy, i.e. it was tilted downwards in profile.
It likely spent most of its life in trees, and was probably a brachiator, similar to modern orangutans and gibbons. Its molars had relatively little enamel, suggesting that it ate soft leaves and fruit, an ideal diet for a tree-dwelling animal.
The five-cusp and juvenile fissure pattern of its molar teeth, known as the Y-5 arrangement, is typical of the dryopithecids and of hominoids in general.
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