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Scientific Classification

H. Habilis

Introduction to the Homo Habilis

Scientists have estimated that the unique species of Homo Habilis lived some 2.2 to 1.6 mya (million years ago) in the eastern regions of Africa. Through continuing scientific research, it has been stated that Homo Habilis (or H. Habilis) was one of the earliest known species of apes in the world, meaning that we, as apes that have evolved from the same common ape ancestor, are somewhat relatives to these early creatures. The name, Homo Habilis means handy or skilled person, which reflects the fact that these apes were known for their ability and intelligence to create tools and even weapons. Fig. 1 illustrates the body of a homo habilis which existed approximately 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago in Eastern Africa.

And how did this early species of ape become extinct? There is no definite answer to this, but countless theories have been developed and suggested that perhaps the animal's brain size (which was already relatively large as opposed to other animals at the time) was not as developed as other animals', whose brain sizes may have been larger and of a higher EQ level. With a less developed brain size and lower EQ, the species of Homo Habilis began to decline, also due to the fact that surrounding animals also began evolving quicker than the ape species, and eventually when it just could not compete with the other evolving animals, Homo Habilis became extinct.
(Fig. 1) The Homo Habilis
(Fig. 2) Image showing the Homo Habilis using its skills to create tools


As mentioned above, Homo Habilis lived in the Eastern regions of the African continent. Its presumable habitat or living environment in Africa would most likely be savannas (as understandably, 2.2. million years ago, there was little expanse of forests, adding that Africa is quite a hot and humid environment for animals to live in). Retrieved fossils from sites indicate that the species generally lived within the areas of Tanzania and Kenya, as well as the Olduvai Gorge (see Fig. 3 for a map of this).

(Fig. 3) Map showing the areas in which fossilized remains of Homo Habilis were found, indicating a possible natural habitat of the species
Source: http://www.afropop.org/explore/show_country/ID/22/Kenya,%20African%20Music,%20World%20Music
Aspects of the Environment

Even at a time period of 2.2 million years ago, there were many animals that also inhabited the plains of Africa besides Homo Habilis, for example, vultures, whose species lies within the African continent, african elephants, who live in the same savanna-like environments as Homo Habilis, as well as lizards, lions, rhinos and believe it or not...pigs! The Black -Backed Jackal is also yet another animal that inhabited the plains of Africa at the time of the Homo Habilis.

The Homo Habilis' diet, similarly to the modern day, evolved chimpanzee, consists of a supplement majoring in plants (i.e. leaves) with a small proportion of meats. Their diet consists of a range of foods, from leaves and insects, to berries, fruits and meat. Like modern chimpanzees, they also hunted inferior birds and stole their eggs as a source of food.

Surrounding vegetation during the time of Homo Habilis was quite dry, as Africa experiences a year-round hot and dry climate, therefore, all food sources had to withstand and adapt to the climate.
There were various species of different plants and trees that was also home to many animals as well as the Homo Habilis, as well as acting as a food source.

With such a vast, open area like savannas in Eastern Africa, predators would have been able to roam and target their prey easily, which was advantageous. As Africa, at the time, did not have very abundant forests, these hominids were easy targets to their predators, but their ingenious methods of protection allowed them them to defend themselves and the rest of their species from being killed and risking early extinction.


Structural Adaptation ONE
Homo Habilis had a slightly weaker jaw compared to the modern day chimpanzee, but their teeth were still relatively strong and enabled them to eat meat and plants. In comparison with the previous species of hominids, the teeth of Homo Habilis decreased slightly and became slightly smaller in size compared to the Australopithecus hominid species. Even with this slight 'disadvantage', Homo Habilis ate a widely ranged diet that consisted of both soft and harder foods, but some meats were impossible to consume due to the fact of small teeth.

In the past, the older species of hominids were not open to a wide range of foods, which meant they did not require the need for strong, aciculate teeth. When animal species started to evolve and predators and prey increased, the ever-developing species of hominids adapted to new environments and new diets by changing their structures, in this instance it is the teeth. By developing the teeth and increasing or decreasing the size slightly, these hominids took advantage of these newly developed structures in survival. During certain times, smaller teeth may have been a disadvantage to the species, but there were advantageous situations and uses of this development. Therefore, Homo Habilis were part of the developing process of structures to better adapt the species to the changing environments, and the fact that they had smaller teeth may have been both an advantage and disadvantage.

Structural Adaption TWO
It is not unusual to know that these hominids were so similar to humans even at 2.2 million years ago. The structure of the Homo Habilis' hands and feet create an obvious resemblance between them and humans. The ability for the animal species to stand upright was quite a unique ability, but the only slight difference between human and Homo Habilis within this structure was that their backs were slightly curved when they stood upright, almost like a slight 'hunch' (illustrated in Fig. 4).
(Fig. 4) Illustration of an upright Homo Habilis - note that its back is slightly hunched forward
Source: http://studentbiologist.blogspot.com/2010/05/hominid-story.html
Environmental pressure that may have led to the rise of this adaptation is the development of its living environment or habitat. In the past, Africa was quite a barren piece of hot, dry land that was scarce in water and rich green vegetation. As animals were introduced and began to evolve, so did the Homo Habilis species. With increasing abundance of plants and trees, and a larger food and living environment, the traditional movement style of hominids, the 'knuckle-walking style', the species evolved to allow a more versatile form of movement, which was to walk upright with both legs. Therefore, the development of the Homo Habilis' environment and habitat influenced structural evolution of the species and enabled versatility throughout the species' movement/walking-style.

Behavioral Adaptation ONE
The name given to this hominid species, Homo Habilis, means handy or skilled person. This name reflects the ability of this species as it is/was known for its ability to create tools from stone, which was achieved by breaking apart a stone into two. The two pieces of stone, once broken, were quite sharp, and could be used as a weapon in an attack situation, or to tear apart the caught prey to eat.

Developing this unique breakthrough ability (at the time, this ability was non-existent) could have possibly been influenced by either genetic development or mutation over species generations or the rising need to develop new methods of attack and defence from predators and prey. It is likely that this particular species of hominid could have been one of the random few affected by natural selection. From the mutation, it may have boosted the brain cells and increased the species' EQ, allowing it to think and develop new methods to enhance the species.
On the other hand, the rising pressure to develop new methods of attack and defence could have occurred naturally, which influenced this ability to outburst within this species. It is not unusual for apes to change traditional methods and barriers of their lifestyle for means of survival, after all, we humans did evolve from these remarkable creatures.

Behavioral Adaptation TWO
Just like the modern day chimpanzee, Homo Habilis live in small groups together, as a way to enhance security and protection between each other. Hunting was also performed in small groups, as (a) it would reduce the risk of being killed by a predator, as there are more of your species to help defend, and (b) it would be more efficient and faster to find food. There was a highly unlikely chance that a Homo Habilis could find food faster on its own than working together with a hunting group.

Once again, the evolution of animals and the development of the surrounding environment may have contributed to the rise of this adaptation. The increasing risk of predators alert the species that protection and security must become a priority, so small groups of Homo Habilis were to be formed in order to reduce the threat. It would be much more secure to live and hunt in groups rather than on their own as, if attacked by a predator, nearby Homo Habilis of the same group will be alerted and assist the affected. Therefore, the ever-increasing predators around the species' environment contributes greatly to the rise of this adaptation.

Behavioral Adaptation THREE
It may not, after all, be such a stereotypical thought that a female will take the motherly role of nurturing and providing food for the children whilst the male hunts food and takes charge in protection and is the head in family hierarchy.
Another possible location, which was mentioned above, that suggests where the Homo Habilis lived was in the Olduvai Gorge. Researchers have found evidence that could possibly explain the common stereotype of gender roles. The evidence was studied and reported back as an explanation of work distribution between the two genders of the species. It suggested that males obtained the role of hunting animals and meat, whilst the females were in charge of finding plant foods.

Possible pressure pertaining to the environment that suggests the rise of this adaptation is likely to be (a) introduction of gender roles within other animal species, and (b) species development due to increasing predator numbers. Surrounding animal species, especially within the same environment, are quite influential on other animal species. If an animal species adopts the gender work distribution role, this may create an influence on the Homo Habilis species to follow.
When predator numbers rise, there is, once again, a greater concern for security and protection. The males take charge of protection and collecting meat as 'masculinity' implies a strong, brave and ferocious role - pertaining to the males. The women, therefore, adopt the role of gathering plant foods and caring for the young.
Therefore, increasing predator numbers and influence of new roles of other animal species may have been an environmental pressure that had given rise to this adaptation.

Selection Pressure
Perhaps the most significant selection pressure that led to the extinction of the Homo Habilis hominid species was the 'demanding' increase for brain sizes. The Homo Habilis had a brain size of approximately 650 cc (cubic centimetres), which was slightly larger than the previous species of hominid (Australopithecus). The demand for a greater brain size was to enhance the knowledge of the hominid species, as intellectual intelligence grew as a necessity to the species. Each new species of hominid, the brain size increased slightly, and the past species of hominids whose brain size could not compete with the smarter, 'brainier' hominids, eventually became extinct. The selection pressure just goes to show how the demand for intelligence increased rapidly over time.
Presently speaking, the average human brain size is approximately 1350 cc.

(Fig. 5) Labelled image of Homo Habilis adaptations
N.B. And various other sources

BBC Home (n.d.) Food For Thought - 3 million years ago. Retrieved June 23rd, 2011 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life/human/human_evolution/food_for_thought1.shtml
EcoTao (2009) F-2. Homo Jabilis and Homo Erectus. Retrieved June 24th, 2011 from http://www.ecotao.com/holism/hu_habilis.htm
Library ThinkQuest (n.d.) Homo Habilis. Retrieved June 24th, 2011 from http://library.thinkquest.org/J0110505/media/homo_habilis.htm
No Website Title (2004) Supplemental Lecture. Retrieved June 25th, 2011 from http://www.mansfield.ohio-state.edu/~sabedon/biol1530.htm
Smithson National Museum of Natural History (n.d.) Homo Habilis. Retrieved June 24th, 2011 from http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-habilis