Unique proximal tibial morphology in strepsirrhine primates

Am J Primatol. 2004 Nov;64(3):293-308. doi: 10.1002/ajp.20079.


Although the morphology of the tibial plateau in primates has received very little attention in the literature, it does exhibit features of phylogenetic and functional interest. This paper describes the morphology of the tibial plateau (particularly the intercondylar region) in extant and fossil primates, and in three mammalian outgroups: the pen-tailed tree shrew (Ptilocercus), tree shrew (Tupaia), and flying lemur or dermopteran (Cynocephalus). Extant and fossil strepsirrhine primates exhibit an eminence with a single spine, which contrasts with the intercondylar morphology of haplorhine primates. Most extant platyrrhines, all catarrhine primates (including humans), and some fossil haplorhines possess an eminence with two spines (medial and lateral) connected by a ridge of bone that intersects the intercondylar groove. Tarsius and callitrichines possess an eminence with a reduced medial spine that superficially resembles that of strepsirrhine primates. Dermopterans also exhibit a morphology similar to that of strepsirrhines. In Scandentia, the intercondylar morphology of Tupaia is similar to that of rodents, whereas Ptilocercus resembles tarsiers and callitrichines. We hypothesize that proximal tibiae with either a single spine or reduced medial spine morphology facilitate a greater degree of knee rotation about the eminence relative to the double-spine condition, and are likely associated with more frequent adoption of vertical body positions. In contrast, a double-spine eminence limits knee rotation and is probably associated with greater use of horizontal supports. Although the polarity is complicated by the unknown phylogenetic status of likely sister taxa, it seems most probable that the single-spine morphology is a derived feature of strepsirrhines.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biometry
  • Body Weights and Measures
  • Fossils*
  • Knee / anatomy & histology
  • Knee / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Strepsirhini / anatomy & histology*
  • Tibia / anatomy & histology*