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Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate Fossil Sites of Florida

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Vertebrate Fossil Sites of Florida


University of Florida Vertebrate Fossil Locality AL027

location of McGehee Farm site

Location: about 3 miles north of Newberry, western Alachua County, Florida; 29.7 N, 82.6 W.

Age: late Miocene Epoch; early Hemphillian Land Mammal Age (Hemphillian 1), about 8 to 9 million years old (estimated). Note that in the pre-1977 references cited below, the age of the site is regarded as Pliocene; Hemphillian (and Clarendonian) sites were then correlated with the Pliocene Epoch of the standard geologic time scale. As radioisotopic dating of terrestrial and marine sedimentary rocks became widespread, the correlation between the time scale and North American Land Mammal ages was adjusted (see Hulbert, 2001).

Basis of Age: vertebrate biochronology. The early megalonychid sloth Pliometanastes and the mylodontid sloth Thinobadistes are limited to the early Hemphillian interval (Tedford et al., 2004). The combined presence of the species Neohipparion trampasense, Nannippus westoni, and Aphelops malacorhinus favor a Hemphillian 1 age instead of Hemphillian 2, as does the absence of taxa whose first appearance defines the start of the Hemphillian 2 interval: Enhydritherium, Indoarctos, and Machairodus.

Geology: The fossil-bearing sediments of the McGehee Site were formerly placed in the Alachua Formation (Webb, 1964), but that geologic unit is no longer recognized by the Florida Geological Survey (Scott, 1988). The fossils from this locality occur in two distinct strata: a lower bed of poorly sorted sand and clay with small phosphatic pebbles; and an upper bed of poorly consolidated coarse sand and phosphatic and limestone cobbles (Webb, 1964). Channels of the upper bed cut into the lower deposits. These deposits lie on top of Eocene limestone. The two Miocene beds produce essentially the same fauna, so the difference in age is considered i nsignificant. Following deposition, numerous solution cavities and depressions formed in the underlying limestone, causing vertical slumping or collapsing of the overlying sediments by as much as 12 feet (4 meters) (Figure 1). It is impossible to determine when this karstic activity occurred; i.e. later in the Miocene, Pliocene, or Pleistocene. The late Miocene sediments are overlain by Pleistocene sands up to 2 m thick.

Depositional Environment: The McGehee site was deposited under fluvial and estuarine conditions. The lower bed was deposited by slower currents, and contains abundant well-preserved fossils of nearshore marine and freshwater vertebrates. Fossils from the upper bed are generally more fragmentary and those not disturbed by slumping appear to show a preferred orientation reflecting a current direction of southeast to northwest (Webb, 1964).

excavations at McGehee Farm

Figure 1. Excavating fossil-bearing sediments at McGehee Farm that have collapsed into a solution tube that formed in the underlying Eocene limestone.

Excavation History and Methods: The site was originally discovered in 1958, but intensive excavation by the then Florida State Museum began in 1963 at the initiative of curator Clayton Ray. The 1963-1964 excavations were supported by a grant from the Frick Corporation, and Frick field crews worked the site at times, although all specimens they collected are housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. After 1964 the work was partially founded by NSF grant GB 3862 to S. D. Webb. Regular museum excavations ceased in June 1973, although periodic visits to spoil piles during class field trips still produced catalogable fossils for another three decades.

The site was crudely gridded into squares 10 x 10 meters in dimension. Some screen-washing of sediments was done, but no records were maintained about how much or what percentage of the site was treated in this manner. The Florida Museum of Natural History has over 3,300 cataloged specimens from McGehee Farm, plus an estimated 5,000 additional uncatalogued specimens (mostly isolated fish and turtles elements).

1975 excavations at McGehee Farm

Figure 2. Florida Museum workers quarrying at McGehee Farm in the early 1970s. (photo by S.D. Webb)

Comments: McGehee Farm was the second major late Miocene vertebrate fossil site to be found in Florida, and the first to be excavated by the Florida Museum of Natural History. Its discovery showed that the Mixsons Bone Bed site from Levy County, Florida, found in the 1880s, was not a singular occurrence. The two sites share many species, although relative abundances are different (relatively more specimens of gomphothere, rhinos, and camelids at Mixsons; relatively more horses, tapir, and turtles at McGehee Farm) and McGehee Farm has overall greater diversity and a marine component to its fauna that is lacking at Mixsons. Following McGehee Farm, discovery of significant late Miocene sites in north-central Florida became a regular occurrence at a frequency of about one every 15 years (if they occurred at a faster pace, our collection would have been completely filled years ago!).

The McGehee Farm site is the type locality for eight species, three aquatic turtles (Macrochelys auffenbergi, Pseudemys williamsi, and Pseudemys carri [junior synonym of Pseudemys caelata]), a small tortoise (Hesperotestudo alleni), two birds (Nycticorax fidens and Jacana farrandi), a small ground sloth (Pliometanastes protistus), and a tapir (Tapirus webbi). It also produced significant samples of garfish (Atracosteus), crocodilians (Thecachampsa americana and Alligator meffordi), rhinos (especially Teleoceras proterum), the rodent Mylagaulus kinseyi, and the horned artiodactyl Synthetoceras tricornatus.


Auffenberg, W. 1966. A new species of Pliocene tortoise, genus Geochelone, from Florida. Journal of Paleontology, 40:877882. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1301883

Becker, J. J. 1987. Neogene Avian Localities of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 171 p.

Dobie, J. L. 1968. A new turtle species of the genus Macroclemys (Chelydridae) from the Florida Pliocene. Tulane Studies in Zoology and Botany, 15:5963. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/4335731

Hirschfeld, S. E., and S. D. Webb. 1968. Plio-Pleistocene megalonychid sloths of North America. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum, 12:213296. http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?b=UF00001529

Hulbert, R. C. 1987. Late Neogene Neohipparion (Mammalia, Equidae) from the Gulf Coastal Plain of Florida and Texas. Journal of Paleontology 61:809830. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1305291

Hulbert, R. C. 1988. Calippus and Protohippus (Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Equidae) from the Miocene (Barstovian-early Hemphillian) of the Gulf Coastal Plain. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 32:221340. http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?b=UF00099410

Hulbert, R. C. 1988. Cormohipparion and Hipparion (Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Equidae) from the Late Neogene of Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 33:229338. http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?b=UF00099409

Hulbert, R. C. 1993. Late Miocene Nannippus (Mammalia, Perissodactyla) from Florida, with a description of the smallest hipparionine horse. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 13:350366. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4523517

Hulbert, R. C. 2005. Late Miocene Tapirus (Mammalia, Perissodactyla) from Florida, with description of a new species, Tapirus webbi. Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 45(4):465494. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/bulletin/hulbertlowres.pdf

Jackson, D. R. 1976. The status of the Pliocene turtles Pseudemys caelata Hay and Chrysemys carri Rose and Weaver. Copeia 1976:655659. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1443445

Olson, S. L. 1976. A jacana from the Pliocene of Florida. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 89:259264. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/34558591

Patton, T. H., and B. E. Taylor. 1971. The Synthetoceratinae (Mammalia, Tylopoda, Protoceratidae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 145:119218. http://hdl.handle.net/2246/1089

Rose, F. L., and Weaver, W. G. 1966. Two new species of Chrysemys (=Pseudemys) from the Florida Pliocene. Tulane Studies in Geology and Paleontology, 5:4148.

Scott, T. M. 1988. The lithostratigraphy of the Hawthorn Group (Miocene) of Florida. Florida Geological Survey Bulletin 59:1-148.

Tedford, R. H. et al. 2004. Mammalian biochronology of the Arikareean through Hemphillian interval (late Oligocene through early Pliocene epochs). Pp. 169-231 in M. O. Woodburne, ed., Late Cretaceous and Cenozoic Mammals of North America, Biostratigraphy and Biochronology. Columbia University Press, New York.

Webb, S. D. 1964. The Alachua Formation. Pp. 22-30 in Field Trip in Central Florida. University of Florida and Florida Geological Survey.

Webb, S. D. 1966. A relict species of the burrowing rodent Mylagaulus, from the Pliocene of Florida. Journal of Mammalogy, 47:401412. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1377681

Webb, D. 1969. The Pliocene Canidae of Florida, Bulletin of the Florida State Museum. Biological sciences, 14(4):273-308. http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?b=UF00001522

Webb, S. D., and R. C. Hulbert. 1986. Systematics and evolution of Pseudhipparion (Mammalia, Equidae) from the Late Neogene of the Gulf Coastal Plain and the Great Plains. Pp. 237272 in K. M. Flanagan and J. A. Lillegraven (eds.), Vertebrates, Phylogeny, and Philosophy. University of Wyoming Contributions to Geology, Special Paper 3.

Faunal List (†=extinct species; *=species no longer living in Florida)

Carcharias taurus
Carcharocles megalodon
Carcharodon hastilis
Carcharhinus leucas
Carcharhinus limbatus
Carcharhinus plumbeus
Carcharhinus brevipinna
Galeocerdo aduncus
Galeocerdo contortus
Negaprion brevirostris
Rhizoprionodon sp.
Sphyrna sp.
Hemipristis serra
Pteromylaeus sp.
Pristis sp.

Atractosteus sp., cf. A. spatula
Lepiosteus sp.
Megalops sp., cf. M. atlantica
Ictaluridae sp.
Centropomus sp.
Pogonias sp.

Pseudemys caelata
Pseudemys williamsi
Deirochelys carri
Terrapene sp.
Apalone sp.
Hesperotestudo alleni
Hesperotestudo hayi
Macrochelys auffenbergi
Eumeces sp.
Alligator meffordi
Thecachampsa americana

Rollandia sp.
Tachybaptis sp.
Podiceps sp.
Phalacrocorax sp.
Anhinga grandis
Mycteria sp.
Nycticorax fidens
Anas 2 spp.
Jacana farrandi
Calidris rayi
Calidris 2 spp.
Phoenicopterus sp.

Pliometanastes protistus
Thinobadistes segnis
Vespertilionidae, genus and species indeterminate
Hypolagus sp.
Mylagaulus kinseyi
Epicyon saevus
Epicyon haydeni
Metaxytherium floridanum
Amebelodon floridanum
Tapirus webbi
Teleoceras proterum
Aphelops malacorhinus
Neohipparion trampasense
Nannippus westoni
Pseudhipparion skinneri
Calippus sp., cf. Calippus hondurensis
Calippus elachistus
Cormohipparion ingenuum
Cormohipparion plicatile
Protohippus gidleyi
†Tayassuidae, genus and species indeterminate
Synthetoceras tricornatus
Procamelus grandis
Hemiauchenia minima
Floridameryx floridanus
Pediomeryx hamiltoni

Author: Alexis Rojas; Original Date: November 5, 2012
Last Edited by: Richard C. Hulbert Jr.; Last up-dated On: October 17, 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.

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