Florida Museum of Natural History

Vertebrate Paleontology

Tapirus Research at the FLMNH

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CRANIAL MORPHOLOGY AND SYSTEMATICS OF AN EXTRAORDINARY SAMPLE OF THE LATE NEOGENE DWARF TAPIR, TAPIRUS POLKENSIS (OLSEN)

ABSTRACT—The previously poorly known ‘‘Tapiravus’’ polkensis Olsen, 1960 (Mammalia, Perissodactyla, Tapiridae) is now known from abundant, well preserved specimens from both the type area in central Florida and from the Gray Fossil Site (GFS) in eastern Tennessee. The latter has produced over 75 individuals, the greatest number of tapirids from a single fossil site, including many articulated skeletons. Almost all linear measurements taken on skulls, mandibles, and cheek teeth from GFS have coefficients of variation less than 10 (most between 3 and 7), indicating the presence of a single species. However, the sample reveals considerable intraspecific variation for a few key morphologic features, including development of the sagittal crest, outline shape of the nasals, and number and relative strength of lingual cusps on the P1. The Florida sample of T. polkensis is more limited, but has the same state as the GFS sample for all preserved characters of systematic significance, and while the Florida teeth are on average smaller (especially narrower lower cheek teeth), they fall either within or just below the observed range of the Gray Fossil Site population. The new material supports a reassignment of ‘‘Tapiravus’’ polkensis to the genus Tapirus, and demonstrates that the geologic age of the species is significantly younger than previously thought, Hemphillian rather than Barstovian. Tapirus polkensis is the smallest known North American Tapirus, and smaller than any of the extant species in the genus, with an estimated average mass of 125 kg.

From the Journal of Paleontology 83(2):238–262