Prehensile tails evolved independently twice in primates: once in the ateline subfamily of platyrrhine primates and once in the genus Cebus. Structurally, the prehensile tails of atelines and Cebus share morphological features distinguishing them from nonprehensile tails (e.g., robust and strong caudal vertebrae, well developed lateral tail musculature, etc.). However, because of their independent evolutionary histories, the prehensile tails of atelines exhibit some differences from the Cebus prehensile tail. Ateline tails are relatively longer than those of Cebus, and they have less well-developed extensor compartment musculature. However, perhaps the most obvious difference is the distinctive hairless friction pad on the ventrodistal surface of the ateline tail; the tail of Cebus is completely covered in hair. This study documents the presence of four epicritic histologic mechanoreceptors in the friction pad of atelines: Meissner's corpuscles, Pacinian corpuscles, Ruffini corpuscles, and Merkel discs. Ruffini corpuscles and Merkel cells were also identified in the ventrodistal skin of the Cebus tail. However, Meissner's and Pacinian corpuscles (not typically associated with hairy skin) were not found in Cebus. Cebus was also compared to its closest living sister taxon, nonprehensile-tailed Saimiri, in which genus only Ruffini corpuscles are observed (no Merkel discs). The differences in mechanoreceptor type and morphology are attributed to the contrasting behavioral and tactile demands of the tail as it is used in posture and locomotion, which also distinguishes atelines from Cebus.
- Glabrous friction pad
- Sensory ecology