This spectacular fossil mandible of Tapirus haysii, a species of tapir that lived in Florida in the latter Pleistocene. At nearly 12" in length, this large jaw is an impressive display specimen on an extinct North American tapir that lived in what was a temperate Florida, during the final Ice Age of North America.
The Tapiridae family are members of the order of Perissodactyla or 'Odd-toed Ungulates'. Ungulates are hoofed mammals that represent the main group of large herbivorous animals alive today. Tapirs first appeared about 40 million years ago during the Oligocene Period. They are still alive today in Central and northern South America as well as Southeast Asia although they are considered endangered in all regions. They are bizarre creatures with heavy pig-like bodies, large odd-toed hoofed feet and long, flexible snouts. They have the ability to move and grasp small branches and leaves with their trunks. Today, tapirs remain unchanged in appearance since they first evolved millions of years ago, which is quite unusual.
In Florida, the earliest tapir remains date back 22 million years ago to the Early Miocene. Only in the late Miocene though, do they become abundant. At least four species of tapirs lived in Florida but only one existed at any one time. Tapirus simpsoni was the first species to emerge with Tapirus veroensis being the last, surviving right up to the mass extinction marking the end of the Pleistocene. Another Pleistocene species, Tapirus haysii, was larger than all other prehistoric species.