Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pygmy Tapir: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

This past Saturday was World Tapir Day.  Zoos around the world celebrated the tapir, a unique and interesting plant eating mammal native to South America and Asia that is currently endangered due to habitat destruction.  Even though they resemble hippos and elephants, tapirs belong to the order, Perrisodactyla, and are more closely related to horses and rhinos.  Did you know that tapirs have been around on the earth for millions of years?  There even used to be tapirs living in the United States!  Check out the prehistoric tapir, Tapirus polkensis.

Life restoration of Tapirus polkensis by Christopher DiPiazza

Tapirus polkensis is known by its common name, the Pygmy Tapir, because it is the smallest species of tapir known to science.  The adults were only about the size of a domestic sheep.  Pygmy Tapir fossils have been discovered in what is now Polk County, Florida (hence the species name).  There have also been many specimens discovered in Tennessee.  Pygmy Tapirs lived during the Late Miocene age about five million years ago.

Tapirus polkensis skeletal mounts at the East Tennessee State University Museum of Natural History in Tennessee, USA. 

When T. polkensis was alive its habitat would have been a swamp.  They probably were good swimmers (modern tapirs love the water, using their small trunks as snorkels) and would have been at home in their wet habitat.   

That's it for this week!  Join us next week (Cinco de Mayo) to meet a dinosaur from Mexico!  As always feel free to request your favorite prehistoric creature in the comments below or on our facebook page


Richard C. Hulbert Jr., Steven C. Wallace, Walter E. Klippel & Paul W. Parmalee (2009). "Cranial morphology and systematics of an extraordinary sample of the Late Neogene dwarf tapir, Tapirus polkensis (Olsen)". Journal of Paleontology 83 (2): 238–262. doi:10.1666/08-062.1

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