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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/40

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

few words on their general relations as a distinct order of mammalia. No other group, so extensive and so varied as this, is so exclusively tropical in its distribution, a circumstance no doubt due to the fact that monkeys depend so largely on fruit and insects for their subsistence. A very few species extend into the warmer parts of the temperate zones, their extreme limits in the northern hemisphere being Gibraltar, the western Himalayas at eleven thousand feet elevation, East Thibet, and Japan. In America they are found in Mexico, but do not appear to pass beyond the tropic. In the southern hemisphere they are limited by the extent of the forests in South Brazil, which reach about 30° south latitude. In the East, owing to their entire absence from Australia, they do not reach the tropic; but in Africa some baboons range to the southern extremity of the continent.

But this extreme restriction of the order to almost tropical lands is only recent. Directly we go back to the Pliocene period of geology, we find the remains of monkeys in France, and even in England. In the earlier Miocene several kinds, some of large size, lived in France, Germany, and Greece, all more or less closely allied to living forms of Asia and Africa. About the same period monkeys of the South American type inhabited the United States. In the remote Eocene period the same temperate lands were inhabited by lemurs in the East, and by curious animals believed to be intermediate between lemurs and marmosets in the West. We know from a variety of other evidence that throughout these vast periods a mild and almost sub-tropical climate extended over all Central Europe and parts of North America, while one of a temperate character prevailed as far north as the Arctic Circle. The monkey tribe then enjoyed a far greater range over the earth, and perhaps filled a more important place in Nature than it does now. Its restriction to the comparatively narrow limits of the tropics is no doubt mainly due to the great alteration of climate which occurred at the close of the Tertiary period, but it may have been aided by the continuous development of varied forms of mammalian life better fitted for the contrasted seasons and deciduous vegetation of the north temperate regions. The more extensive area formerly inhabited by the monkey-tribe would have favored their development into a number of divergent forms, in distant regions and adapted to distinct modes of life. As these retreated southward and became concentrated in a more limited area, such as were able to maintain themselves became mingled together as we now find them, the ancient and lowly marmosets and lemurs subsisting side by side with the more recent and more highly developed howlers and anthropoid apes.

Throughout the long ages of the Tertiary period monkeys must have been very abundant and very varied, yet it is but rarely that their fossil remains are found. This, however, is not difficult to explain. The deposits in which mammalian remains most abound are