Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Selenka's gibbons

Bornean White-bearded Gibbon (Hylobates albibarbis)
Primate Info Net (University of Wisconsin) Photo Credit Marilyn Cole
Emil Selenka showed that the gibbon embryo, like that of humans and other apes, develops in the uterine wall beneath a decidua capsularis. But what species did he study?

Most of his figures are of a gibbon identified as Hylobates concolor (Harlan) from Borneo. The species name is still in use for Nomascus concolor, which is not found on Borneo. I now know, thanks to Dr. Thomas Geissman and his remarkable web site, that this reflects an extraordinary comedy of errors. Harlan described his ape as a hermaphrodite orangutan from Borneo; in fact it was a juvenile gibbon from Indochina!

Geographical distribution of gibbons.
(C) 2010 Thinh et al.
How then can we identify Selenka's gibbon? A study of mitochondrial genes (here) concluded that there were two species of gibbon on Borneo, one of them with three subspecies. Fortunately Selenka stated his specimens were collected on the left bank of the Kapuas River, in the territory occupied by the Bornean White-bearded Gibbon (Hylobates albibarbis) shown above.

Early stage of pregnancy in Hylobates albibarbis with amnion (A), yolk sac (D) and
exocoelom (Ex). The specimen had been flattened by contraction of the uterus but
the decidua capsularis (Dc) is clearly seen.
The embryo is depicted above. It had a primitive streak but no somites. Therefore it may correspond to Carnegie Stage 7 or early Stage 8 in the human. Selenka's paper can be found on the web (read only).

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