A Key to understanding Post-Flood Dispersal and Diversification

Chad Arment (2023)

Lemurs present a unique opportunity, and an interesting challenge, for creationists. All extant species are endemic to the island of Madagascar, which sounds like it should be a fairly straightforward biogeographic analysis for post-Flood dispersal. But the number of species (and genera, and families) suggest that popular creationist conservativism is in for a rocky ride. Rather, lemurs might just present a different way of understanding post-Flood diversification patterns.

There are no pre-Holocene lemur fossils on Madagascar, but quite a few subfossil species, now extinct, are known. Some of these are very different from today’s lemurs. Of the living and extinct Madagascan lemurs, there are 8 families, 22 genera, and about 125 species recognized. (Species will likely increase in number over time, as more subfossils are uncovered and perhaps further cryptic species discovered.) Only a few non-Madagascan lemur fossils have been identified, but these fall in line with post-Flood dispersal patterns.

The subfossil lemurs were essentially much larger in body mass than living lemurs. Archaeoindris was identified as a gorilla-sized lemur based on cranial and post-cranial remains (Godfrey and Jungers 2003). There is some evidence that early humans in Madagascar butchered some species of giant lemurs for food (Perez et al. 2005). That may have been one pressure that led to their extinction. Exactly when they disappeared is still debated, as there is interesting folklore collected from the 1600s to near the present day, suggesting they may have survived until the last few centuries (Burney and Ramilisonina 1998).

what is a lemur? Primatological context

The Order Primates can be separated into two main groups: haplorrhines (‘dry-nosed’ primates, including monkeys, apes, and tarsiers) and strepsirrhines (‘wet-nosed’ primates, including lemurs, galagos, lorises, and the extinct adapiform primates). Strepsirrhines display specialized traits for visual acuity (especially at night) and pheromone and scent detection, and unlike haplorrhines are able to produce their own vitamin C.

Within the strepsirrhines, the now extinct adapiforms join the lemuriforms (lemurs, galagos, and lorises). Adapiforms included over 50 extinct genera in 3 families, found in North American, European, and Asian Eocene to Miocene deposits. They are believed to have died out as the climate changed. One secular study suggests lemuriforms diverged from within the earliest adapiforms (Boyer et al. 2018).

There are 10 lemuriform families. The Family Lorisidae include the African pottos and the Asian lorises. The Family Galagidae includes the African galagos or bush babies. Eight families comprise the lemurs. Most lemuriforms have a tooth-comb, a specialized set of lower front teeth used in grooming. A sublingua, or secondary ‘under-tongue,’ helps keep it clean.

The earliest African strepsirrhine fossils are from the Eocene, including Kanisia and Saharagalago from Egypt. The latter had cheek teeth strongly reminiscent of modern galagos (Rasmussen 2007), suggesting that if lorises and galagos are in the same baramin with lemurs, they differentiated by this period. An ‘earlier’ Eocene fossil, Wadilemur, appears lorisoid, supporting that interpretation.


Eulemur (12 species), Hapalemur (6 species), Lemur (1 species),

Varecia (2 species), †Pachylemur (2 species)

FAMILY Lepilemuridae (sportive lemurs)

Lepilemur (26 species)

FAMILY indriidae

Avahi (9 species), Indri (1 species), Propithecus (9 species)

FAMILY cheirogaleidae (dwarf and mouse lemurs)

Allocebus (1 species), Cheirogaleus (10 species), Microcebus (25 species),

Mirza (2 species), Phaner (4 species)

FAMILY Daubentoniidae (Aye-Ayes)

Daubentonia (2 species, 1 extinct)

FAMILY †Archaeolemuridae (monkey lemurs)

Archaeolemur (2 species), Hadropithecus (1 species)

FAMILY †Megaladapidae (koala lemurs)

Megaladapis (3 species)

FAMILY †Palaeopropithecidae (sloth lemurs)

Archaeoindris (1 species), Babakotia (1 species), Mesopropithecus (3 species),

Palaeopropithecus (3 species)

How did lemurs get to Madagascar?

Before we look at the baraminology of lemurs, we should look at how they first reached Madagascar. The island of Madagascar is about 250 miles off the coast of Africa. It is just over 228,000 square miles in size. It has lost 90% of its forest due to destructive agricultural practices, but was once covered in diverse habitats that would have been paradise for an immigrant stock of primates.

Traditionally, lemurs have been held as a prime example for sweepstakes dispersal (Simpson 1940), with the original immigrants likely accidentally rafting from mainland Africa on debris or in a floating hollow tree. For creationists, this would fit well within post-Flood dispersal mechanisms (Wise and Croxton 2003), as the global Flood catastrophe may have resulted in an enormous amount of Flood debris that took centuries to disappear.

Not all secular scientists accept rafting as a probable mechanism for lemur arrival on Madagascar, however. There has been a great deal of academic argumentation for geodispersal, land bridges or causeways appearing for periods between mainland Africa and Madagascar (Stankiewicz et al. 2006; Mazza et al. 2019; Masters et al. 2020), while proponents of rafting continued to make their case (Ali and Huber 2010; Ali and Vences 2019). One specific issue is that today’s currents are not conducive to such rafting, but research into paleocurrents suggests that Eocene-period currents were “robustly different” and would have had a different trajectory (Ali and Huber 2010). Ali and Hedges (2022; 2023) closely examined the geological evidence for land bridges, and biological patterns in immigrant organisms, and continued to reject the land bridge model. They point out that ‘sweepstakes winners’ among land mammals tend to have small body mass, low energy requirements, the ability to go into torpor, and/or an ability to hibernate. Kappeler (2000) noted that lemurs, tenrecs, and certain herpestids have low metabolic rates, which may have aided their translocation to Madagascar.

Secular scientists, of course, hold to evolutionary assumptions. Creationists hold to a catastrophic Flood model (whichever one chooses), so our reasoning doesn’t require millions of years for answers. Rafting is a reasonable post-Flood mechanism, though it would assume that most of the Cenozoic is post-Flood. The positioning of the continents (and Madagascar) was still not as they are now, between the end of the Flood and the Ice Age, affecting those ‘paleocurrents’. (This may be yet another good argument against an Upper Cenozoic Flood boundary, as there would be little potential for rafting from Africa to Madagascar with modern currents.)

With such currents, it is estimated that vegetation mats could have traveled from East Africa to Madagascar within a month’s time (Krause 2010). Of course, it’s possible it wasn’t simply Flood debris that carried lemurs over. Forested ‘floating islands’ are known to break off the edges of land masses and be carried to new locations (Ali et al. 2021).

In any case, the best evidence for over-water rafting is the clear distinction between Madagascan mammalian fauna and East African mammals. With a land bridge, even a ‘filter’ bridge (Simpson 1940), there would be far more commonalities among genera. Distinctive morphological trajectories starting from small groups of founder individuals point to sweepstakes dispersal. (This is the same way we can determine that Australia was not populated by marsupials via a land bridge from Asia.)

How many dispersals?

Past secular research has suggested that Madagascan lemurs are monophyletic and likely are the result of a single dispersal event to Madagascar (Karanth et al. 2005; McLain et al. 2012). This sounds intuitively probable, even for creationists who often (perhaps too conservatively) suggest the family level as being the upper limit for the baraminic lineage. Would it be as probable for eight separate dispersals from different lemur families from East Africa to Madagascar during the early post-Flood dispersal period? That really doesn’t seem likely.

This leads to a baraminological issue. Thompson and Wood (2018) examined most of the lemur families, and determined that the Lemuridae, Indriidae + Palaeopropithecidae, Lepilemuridae, and Cheirogaleidae are likely holobaramins. If most (at least) Madagascan lemurs derive from a single dispersal event, then the discontinuity between most families must be explained. Wise (2017) has proposed that the post-Flood mechanism for diversification was capable of producing such discontinuity within baraminic lineages, so that sub-baramins may present as holobaramins. This is a key area for future creation biology research.

Throwing a small monkey-wrench into lemur dispersal, though, is a paper that points to a close relationship between the living aye-aye (Daubentonia) and two fossil primates from Eocene Egypt (Plesiopithecus) and Miocene Kenya (Propotto) (Gunnell et al. 2018). This suggests there were two separate dispersals to Madagascar: the first led to the arrival of the Family Daubentoniidae, and the second led to the arrival of the ancestral group from which all other Madagascan lemurs descended. The aye-ayes are undoubtedly true lemurs, though usually considered a sister group to all others. This supports ancestral ‘true lemurs’ as an Ark pair, or an Ark pair that was ancestral to all lemuriforms, or perhaps even all strepsirrhines.

One Eocene ‘crown’ strepsirrhine from Tunisia, Djebelemur, “clearly exhibited a transformed antemolar pattern representing an early stage of crown strepsirhine-like adaptation (‘pre-tooth-comb’)” (Marivaux 2013). This might indicate a transitional period between a non-tooth-comb primate (similar to the adapiforms) and a tooth-comb primate. More work needs to be done in primate baraminology.


Among living lemurs, phylogenetic analyses suggest the Cheirogaleidae and Lepilemuridae as sister taxa, together forming sister taxa to the Indriidae, in turn a sister clade to the Lemuridae (Horvath et al. 2008). Just as creationists Thompson and Wood (2018) identified Indriidae + †Palaeopithecidae as a likely holobaramin, secular biologists identify the Indriidae as a sister group to the †Palaeopithecidae (Jungers et al. 1991). This is despite the fact that the two groups had very different lifestyles. Indriids are very active, leaping between vertical platforms, while the extinct palaeopithecids were sloth-like suspensory feeders, capable of climbing but not leaping. Both groups have corresponding morphological adaptations diverging in different directions in spite of their phylogenetic relationship. Genetic evidence suggests the †Archaeolemuridae are sister taxa to the Indriidae-†Palaeopithecidae, while the †Megalapidae are sister taxa to the Lemuridae (Orlando et al. 2008; Kistler et al. 2015; Marciniak et al. 2021).

While it is recognized that Madagascan lemur diversity is the result of endemic radiation (aside from the aye-aye), research suggests that it isn’t the result of a single burst event that declined over time, but involved independent radiations in multiple lineages (Herrera 2017; Everson et al. 2023). Diversification seems to have been influenced both by geography (rivers, habitat fragmentation) and dietary specialization (Ganzhorn et al. 2006; Ballhorn et al. 2016; Yoder et al. 2016; Marciniak et al. 2021). Changes in dentition appear to have accompanied shifts from soft foods (fruit and insects) to leaves, seeds, bamboo, and harder objects (Fulwood et al. 2021). Climate may have influenced some lemur groups more than others (Yoder et al. 2000; Markolf and Kappeler 2013). It has been noted that lemur groups with higher diversity have higher rates of genetic introgression, suggesting hybridization is another key factor (Everson et al. 2023).

Ramifications for creation biology

Here we have a reasonably clear case of multi-familial diversification within a baraminic kind. There is no plausible biogeographic mechanism by which 8 separate lemur families made their way from Ararat to Madagascar without leaving a trace anywhere along the way, and somehow keeping other primate groups at bay.

Could one argue for supernatural intervention? One could; and a rather upset chap at the 2023 International Conference on Creationism averred to me that ‘God’s angels’ directed post-Flood dispersal. But the Bible does not say anything like that. In Genesis 8:17 (BSB), God says, “Bring out all the living creatures that are with you—birds, livestock, and everything that crawls upon the ground—so that they can spread out over the earth and be fruitful and multiply upon it.” God was not moving animals around the world as if it was a global chessboard. Animals bred, they populated regions, they moved from one continent to another using natural means and over time.

As they dispersed, they diversified. With lemurs, most diversification occurred after they reached Madagascar. Virgin territory with still-shifting habitat (due to geology and climate), new ecological niches to exploit, and little competition created an opportunity for incredible phylogenetic expansion.

Creationists should be very careful about constraining post-Flood diversification to the family level. I suspect (and will eventually add other examples) that multi-familial baraminic lineages are more common than suspected. This is not ‘evolution.’ God has clearly designed baraminic lineages to adapt and diversify, and we have just barely scratched the surface of how this works. Popular creationism has a history of reactionism and hidebound thinking that acts to stifle wonder and acknowledgment of God’s creative design. (How anyone can complain about certain hypothetical transitions in baraminic lineages, when we can see the incredible morphological change that occurs within an individual dragonfly’s life cycle, from gill-breathing, aquatic nymph to aerial acrobat, is beyond me.) We should seek evidence in our model-building, and constantly test those models, but also recognize what God places right in front of us.


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