Florida Museum of Natural History

Vertebrate Paleontology



FLMNH Vertebrate Fossil Collections

The Florida Museum maintains five separate fossil vertebrate collections. Their specimens derive mainly from the Cenozoic Era (last 65 million years), with more than 80% coming from about 1000 localities in Florida. Other major contributing regions are islands in the Caribbean Basin, Central and South America, and intermontaine basins of Wyoming and Montana. Combined, the collections total about 775,000 specimens, of which more than 475,000 are catalogued and on a searchable computer database. Holotypes number about 225 specimens.

The primary and largest of our collections consists of specimens recovered by Florida Museum of Natural History staff, graduate students, and volunteers and those donated to the museum. This collection is referred to as the UF collection. Three other vertebrate fossil collections are the former collection of the Florida Geological Survey, portions of the Timberlane Research Organization collection, and the UF Department of Zoology Fossil Bird Collection (assembled by the late Professor Pierce Brodkorb). Each of these collections is maintained in a separate catalog, under the acronyms UF/FGS, UF/TRO, and UF/PB, respectively. The fifth collection (UF/IGM) is maintained for specimens collected in Colombia by joint expeditions of personnel from the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Geologico-Mineras (Bogota, Colombia), and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Following their preparation, casting, study, and publication, the original fossils will be housed in Bogota and casts will be stored in Gainesville.

The FLMNH collections provide the most complete basis available for study of Cenozoic vertebrate life and evolution in the eastern United States and the circum-Caribbean Basin area.


We will excavate fossils at the Thomas Farm Site in Gilchrist County on March 24-31 and April 3-6. Click here for more details and link to an application form.


Three Florida Museum paleontology collections (invertebrate paleontology, vertebrate paleontology, and paleobotany) are hosting the 2014 North American Paleontological Conference on February 15-18, with pre- and post-conference field trips. Over 300 applications were received from paleontologists from around the world to deliver presentations at the conference. Detailed information can be found at this web site.


In March 2013, vertebrate paleontologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History and co-authors from other institutions have named two new genera and species of caimans and a new species of anthracothere from the early Miocene of Panama and a new genus and species of sabertoothed cat from the early Pliocene of Florida in three separately published scientific papers.

The tiger-sized sabertoothed cat Smilodon fatalis from the late Pleistocene is one of the iconic fossils of its time and well known to the general public. Most use the term ?sabertoothed cat? to just refer to this single species. But sabertooth cats are instead a group of about 20 to 25 valid species known from all continents except Australia and Antarctica. They first appear in the middle Miocene of Eurasia. The ancestry of Smilodon fatalis can be traced back to a jaguar-sized species known as Smilodon gracilis in the early Pleistocene, between 2.5 and 1 million years ago. A second, similar-sized species Megantereon hesperus first appears in the late Pliocene, about 3.5 million years ago. Together Smilodon and Megantereon are classified in the tribe Smilodontini, and they differ from other sabertooth cats by having short, powerful limbs and extremely elongated upper canine teeth. Until now there was no clear evolutionary link between the Smilodontini and other sabertoothed cats. Writing in the online journal PLOS One, Steven Wallace of East Tennessee State University and Richard Hulbert Jr. of the Florida Museum of Natural History name and describe a new genus and species of sabertooth cat from the very early Pliocene (about 4.5 million years ago) from Central Florida. Its name is Rhizosmilodon fiteae, and the anatomy of its lower jaw and teeth are intermediate between Eurasian Miocene sabertooths such as Paramachaerodus and the older members of the Smilodontini, Smilodon gracilis and Megantereon hesperus. Wallace and Hulbert used the widths of several limb bones to estimate the body mass of Rhizosmilodon fiteae to be between 55 and 85 kilograms (about 120-190 pounds), similar to modern jaguars and leopards. Their analysis of its evolutionary relationships place it within the Smilodontini, as its oldest and most primitive member. This means that the tribe lived in North America for at least 4.5 million years, and that Smilodon evolved in North America. All the known fossils of Rhizosmilodon fiteae were found in the commercial phosphate mines of central Florida, mostly in southwestern Polk and northwestern Hardee counties. The species is named for Barbara Fite of Lutz, Florida, who donated one of the better specimens to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Wallace S. C., and R. C. Hulbert Jr. 2013. A new machairodont from the Palmetto Fauna (early Pliocene) of Florida, with comments on the origin of the Smilodontini (Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae). PLoS ONE 8(3):e56173.

University of Florida press release on the sabertoothed cat paper.

The report describing the two new caimans was authored by former UF graduate student Alex Hastings (currently at Georgia Southern University) along with current UF graduate student Aldo Rincon, Florida Museum curators Jonathan Bloch and Bruce MacFadden, and Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. It is one of a number of recent papers documenting fossils discovered as a result of construction to widen the Panama Canal that has exposed fossil-bearing sediments that were otherwise covered by jungle. Collection funding is provided by a major grant from the National Science Foundation. Caimans are members of the alligator family, and today live in South America. Fossil caimans are more widespread, being also known from North America. The species were named Culebrasuchus mesoamericanus and Centenariosuchus gilmorei. The single known specimen of Culebrasuchus mesoamericanus came from the Culebra Formation, while specimens of Centenariosuchus gilmorei were found in the overlying, slightly younger Cucaracha Formation. Despite being of similar geologic age, the evolutionary analysis presented in the paper by Hastings et al. suggests that the two likely had very different histories. Culebrasuchus is regarded as the most primitive caiman in terms of its anatomy, despite being tens of millions younger than the oldest known fossil caimans. Centenariosuchus falls within a group of extinct caimans that are all otherwise known from South America that includes the giant form Purussaurus and the ?duck-billed? caiman Mourasuchus. If this relationship is correct, then this represents one of the oldest known dispersal events between North and South America in the Neogene for a non-flying vertebrate. Several other types of crocodilians were reported from Panama in the paper, but from fossils too incomplete to identify with certainty. Several fragments of jaws represent a form with a long, slender rostrum, like a gharial or the extinct crocodile Gavialosuchus, while two very large teeth are similar to those of the large caiman Purussaurus.

Hastings, A., J. I. Bloch, C.A. Jaramillo, A. Rincon, and B. J. MacFadden. 2013. Systematics and biogeography of crocodylians from the Miocene of Panama. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 33(2):239-263. (if you cannot freely access the website, contact the lead author for a pdf of this paper)

Anthracotheres are an extinct family of artiodactyls, the mammalian order that includes pigs, hippos, giraffes, deer, sheep, and antelope. Anthracothere fossils have been found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America, with an age range of Eocene to Miocene. Some paleontologists believe anthracotheres are either ancestral to or closely related to hippos. In the new paper, UF graduate student Aldo Rincon and co-authors Jonathan Bloch, Bruce MacFadden, and Carlos Jaramillo, describe the first known specimens of an anthracothere from Central America. They form the basis of a new species called Arretotherium meridionale. The genus is also known from fossils in Saskatchewan, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and coastal Texas.

Rincon, A. F., J. I. Bloch, B. J. MacFadden, and C. A. Jaramillo. 2013. First Central American record of Anthracotheriidae (Mammalia, Bothriodontinae) from the early Miocene of Panama. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 33(2):421?433. (if you cannot freely access the website, contact the lead author for a pdf of this paper)

University of Florida press release on the two Panama papers.