Florida Museum of Natural History

Vertebrate Paleontology

Fossil Species of Florida

temporary banner logo

Fossil Species of Florida Home

Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Ceratomorpha, Tapiridae


Common Names: Hays’ tapir, giant tapir

Alternate Scientific Name: Tapirus copei

Source of Species Name: Named for Dr. Isaac Hays (1796-1879), an ophthalmologist in Philadelphia who was interested in natural history, especially paleontology. He obtained the type specimen of the species from its collector Thomas Nuttall and donated it to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1852 (Ray and Sanders, 1984).

Age Range: early Pleistocene (late Blancan-early Irvingtonian), from about 2.5 to 1.0 million years ago.

Florida Fossil Occurrences:

Florida map with occurrences indicated

Figure 1. Map of Florida, with black circles indicating counties where fossils of Tapirus haysii have been found (the circles do not indicate a specific location within the county where the fossils were found, and some counties may have two or more different locations producing this species).

Florida Fossil Sites with Tapirus haysii:
Alachua County—Haile 16A; Haile 21A; Pareners Branch
Brevard County—Tucker Borrow Pit
Citrus County—Inglis 1C; Inglis 1D
Columbia County—Santa Fe River 1
De Soto County—De Soto Shell Pit 5
Gilchrist County—SR138 Spring Site
Hillsborough County—Apollo Beach; Caloosa Shell Pit; Leisey Shell Pit 1A; Leisey Shell Pit 1B; Leisey Shell Pit 2; Leisey Shell Pit 3; Leisey Shell Pit 3A; Leisey Shell Pit 3B
Okeechobee County—Kissimmee River
Polk County—Fort Green Mine; Fort Meade Mine; Palmetto Mine; Payne Creek Mine; Phosphoria Mine; Pool Branch Site , Peace River Mine
Putnam County—Devil’s Elbow 2

Overall Geographic Range: Eastern, central and mid-western United States, including occurrences in Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Type locality is Benners Estate, Neuse River near New Bern, Pamlico County, North Carolina (Ray and Sanders, 1984).

Comments: Tapirus haysii is a moderately large species of tapir, larger than the modern lowland or Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and similar in size to Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii) which today lives in southern Mexico, Central America, and northwestern South America. Among other species in the genus Tapirus, Tapirus haysii is most closely related to the other Pleistocene species from the eastern United States, Tapirus veroensis and Tapirus lundeliusi. Together they form the subgenus Helicotapirus (Hulbert, 2010). Helicotapirus is an extinct lineage, with no living descendants.

maxilla of Tapirus haysii

Figure 2. UF 84190, left maxilla of Tapirus haysii from the Leisey Shell Pit 1A in Hillsborough County, Florida in occlusal view. Teeth present are first through fourth premolars and first through third molars.

maxilla of Tapirus haysii

Figure 3. UF 84190, left maxilla of Tapirus haysii from the Leisey Shell Pit 1A in Hillsborough County, Florida, in medial view (anterior to right).

Simpson (1945) declared that Tapirus haysii was an invalid scientific name, and proposed the name Tapirus copei to replace it. This action was followed for about 40 years (e.g., Ray, 1964; Kurtén and Anderson, 1980). Ray and Sanders (1984) demonstrated the validity of Tapirus haysii and definitively showed that its type locality is from North Carolina (prior to this there was considerable confusion in the scientific literature about the true type locality of this species). Since 1984, most researchers have followed the conclusions of Ray and Sanders and accepted Tapirus haysii as the valid scientific name for this species, and Tapirus copei has been considered its junior synonym.

Tapirus haysii differs from the common middle to late Pleistocene tapir from the eastern United States, Tapirus veroensis, by its relatively longer post-canine diastema, sharply downturned lateral edges of the nasal bone, and, on average, much greater size. In other features of the skull the two are identical. The size difference is more pronounced for the skull and teeth and less so for the limb bones. Evidently the head of Tapirus haysii was relatively large compared to its body. Small individuals of Tapirus haysii overlap in size with large individuals of Tapirus veroensis. At least in Florida, the two species do not co-occur; all well dated records of Tapirus haysii are older than those of Tapirus veroensis. Note that in the early 1900s, relatively large individuals of Tapirus veroensis were often identified in the scientific literature as Tapirus haysii.

juvenile maxilla of Tapirus haysii

Figure 4. UF 82783, left maxilla of Tapirus haysii with deciduous first, second, third, and four premolars from the Leisey Shell Pit 1A in Hillsborough County, Florida. Occlusal (top), lateral (middle) and medial (bottom) views.

Tapirus haysii does co-occur with a smaller species of Tapirus in the late Blancan (very early Pleistocene) of Florida, Tapirus lundeliusi. During that interval Tapirus haysii is much less common than the smaller Tapirus lundeliusi (Hulbert, 2010). Tapirus haysii became more common following the extinction of Tapirus lundeliusi. The chronologic range of Tapirus haysii in Florida as listed in Hulbert (1995) omitted late Blancan records.

The best samples of Tapirus haysii are from Port Kennedy Cave (Pennsylvania) and Leisey Shell Pit (Florida). Analysis of the relative proportions of stable carbon isotopes from tooth enamel taken from Leisey 1A specimens by DeSantis et al. (2009) indicated a browsing diet of leaves from bushes, shrubs, and trees, as is typical of the genus.

premaxilla of Tapirus haysii

Figure 5. UF 86113, right and left premaxillae of Tapirus haysii with first, second, and third incisors from the Leisey Shell Pit 1A in Hillsborough County, Florida. Occlusal (top), medial (middle) and lateral (bottom) views. Note that the enlarged, pointed tooth is the I3, not the canine.

Supposed differences in the first and second upper premolars between Tapirus veroensis and Tapirus haysii that were stressed by Simpson (1945) have not been borne out as sample sizes and the known variation in premolar anatomy have increased. Another factor complicating identification, particularly of isolated teeth, is that the first molars of Tapirus haysii are about the same size as the second molars of Tapirus veroensis. This means that proper identification of tooth position is a critical first step in correctly identifying isolated teeth and jaw fragments.

teeth of Tapirus haysii

Figure 6. Teeth of Tapirus haysii from Florida in occlusal view. Top row, left to right, UF 213920, left M1; UF 224631, right M1; UF 177842, left p4. Bottom row left to right, UF 51250, left P4; UF 177843, right M3; UF 177844, left P1. Top row all from Santa Fe River; Bottom row from Kissimmee River, St. Johns River (Devils Elbow 2), and Inglis 1C.

In Figure 7, lower third molar length is plotted on the X axis and lower third molar anterior width is plotted on the Y axis. Specimens with lengths less than 28.7 mm or widths less than 21.2 mm should be identified as Tapirus veroensis; those with lengths greater than 30 mm or widths greater than 23 mm should be identified as Tapirus haysii. Specimens in the zone of overlap are indeterminate, although if they are heavily worn they are most likely Tapirus haysii, but if unworn or very slight worn, then most likely Tapirus veroensis.

tooth size of Tapirus haysii and Tapirus veroensis

Figure 7. Graph comparing size of lower third molars (m3s) of Tapirus haysii and Tapirus veroensis from Florida.

The chart below will allow identification of most isolated tapir teeth from the Pleistocene of Florida and the rest of the eastern U.S. Specimens of intermediate size cannot be assigned with confidence to a single species without other evidence. In the table, L = length in millimeters; W = anterior width in millimeters; PW = posterior width; P = upper premolar; p= lower premolar; M = upper molar; and m = lower molar.

Tooth position

assign to Tapirus haysii

assign to Tapirus veroensis


L > 20.6 or PW > 15.0

L < 19.7 or PW < 14.7


L > 22.0 or W > 23.3

L < 20.6 or W < 22.0


L > 22.6 or W > 26.6

L < 21.6 or W < 25.7


L > 23.6 or W > 29.3

L < 22.6 or W < 27.0


L > 25.5 or W > 28.8

L < 23.9 or W < 26.9


L > 27.6 or W > 31.9

L < 25.5 or W < 30.8


L > 27.9 or W > 31.7

L < 27.0 or W < 31.5


L > 25.5 or PW > 17.3

L < 25.5 or PW < 15.4


L > 24.6 or W > 17.4

L < 22.5 or W < 16.8


L > 24.5 or W > 21.2

L < 22.5 or W < 19.9


L > 25.8 or W > 20.8

L < 23.0 or W < 19.9


L > 27.6 or W > 22.3

L < 27.0 or W < 21.8


L > 29.8 or W > 22.8

L < 28.7 or W < 21.2

View an image gallery of this species.[Not yet available!]

Scientific Publications and Other References Cited:

DeSantis, L. R. G., R. S. Feranec, and B. J. MacFadden. 2009. Effects of global warming on ancient mammalian communities and their environments. PLoS ONE 4(6):e5750. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005750 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005750

Hulbert, R. C. 1995. The giant tapir, Tapirus haysii, from Leisey Shell Pit 1A and other Florida Irvingtonian localities. Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 37:515-551. http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/UF00095791/00002/175j

Hulbert Jr., R. C. 2010. A new early Pleistocene tapir (Mammalia: Perissodactyla) from Florida, with a review of Blancan tapirs from the state. Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 49(3):67–126. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/bulletin/vol49no3/vol49no3.pdf

Kurtén, B., and E. Anderson. 1980. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press, New York, 442 p.

Ray, C. E. 1964. Tapirus copei in the Pleistocene of Florida. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences, 27:59-66.

Ray, C. E., and A. E. Sanders. 1984. Pleistocene tapirs in the eastern United States. Pp. 283-315 in H. H. Genoways and M. R. Dawson, eds., Contributions in Quaternary Vertebrate Paleontology: a Volume in Memorial to John E. Guilday. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Special Publication 8.

Simpson, G. G. 1945. Notes on Pleistocene and Recent tapirs. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 86:33-82. http://hdl.handle.net/2246/1235

Original Author(s): Richard C. Hulbert Jr.

Original Completion Date: February 26, 2009

Editor(s) Name(s): Richard C. Hulbert Jr.

Last Up-dated On: April 5, 2013

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number CSBR 1203222, Jonathan Bloch, Principal Investigator. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida