52 million years ago, strange primates lived in complete darkness in the Arctic

The earliest known Arctic primates (genus Ignacius) lived through six months of polar winter on what is now Canada’s Ellesmere Island. They likely saw auroras, pictured here. (Image credit: Kristen Miller/Biodiversity Institute, University of Kansas; (CC-BY 4.0))

About 52 million years ago, when the Arctic was warm and swampy but still shrouded in six months of darkness during the polar winter, two small primates scampered around, using their strong jaw muscles to chew the tough vegetation that managed to survive at the gloomy northern pole, a new study finds.

The two newfound primates — which belong to the already established primate genus Ignaciusand were given the new species names of I. dawsonae and I. mckennai — were small, weighing in at an estimated 5 pounds each (2 kilograms). They are the earliest known example of primates living in the Arctic, according to a new study published Wednesday (Jan. 25) in the journal PLoS One (opens in new tab).

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