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Cranial morphology and systematics of an extraordinary sample of the Late Neogene dwarf tapir, Tapirus polkensis (Olsen)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 July 2015

Richard C. Hulbert
1Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville 32611-7800, <>
Steven C. Wallace
2Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology, Department of Geosciences, East Tennessee State University, Box 70357, Johnson City 37614, <>
Walter E. Klippel
3Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville 37996
Paul W. Parmalee
4Frank H. McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville 37996


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.

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Cranial morphology and systematics of an extraordinary sample of the Late Neogene dwarf tapir, Tapirus polkensis (Olsen)
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