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Tapiromorph Fossil

About the Fossil

A new mammal fossil discovered near Kemmerer, Wyoming, is currently undergoing preparation by researcher Mike Eklund for future scientific evaluation. The fossilized tapiromorph specimen was found on a state leased quarry and surrendered to state custody due to its distinction as a rare specimen per the Office of State Lands and Investments fossil permit regulations.

Wyoming Tapiromorph Fossil Fast Facts

  • Discovered near Kemmerer, Wyoming, by Rick Hebdon, President and Owner of Warfield Fossil Quarries

  • Identified as a tapiromorph by the late Dr. Gregg Gunnell, paleontologist and former director at the Duke Lemur Center

  • Researcher Mike Eklund prepared the fossil using special lighting and photography techniques

  • Largest known mammal specimen from the Green River Formation

  • May be a new genus of tapiroid

  • May support a North American origin for tapiroids

The specimen was initially identified as Heptodon calciculus by the late Dr. Gregg Gunnell, paleontologist and former director of the Duke Lemur Center. However, there are a few caveats to consider with this designation:

  • Some characteristics of the specimen deviate from what is typical of a standard Heptodon (the most primitive tapiromorph).
  • It may be an early occurrence of Hyrachyus (a tapiromorph more closely aligned with rhinoceroses) or Helaletes (a tapiromorph more closely aligned with true tapirs).
  • It may be a new genus of ceratomorph or tapiroid.

What is a Tapir?

A tapir is a large, plant-eating mammal most closely related to rhinoceroses or horses, despite bearing a resemblance to pigs and anteaters. It is believed that modern tapirs have not changed much from their primitive form, so the fossil specimen may have resembled one of these modern analogues:

  • Baird’s tapir
  • Lowland tapir
  • Mountain tapir
  • Malayan tapir

Baby tapir
Malayan tapir
Baby tapir with mom

Specimen Preparation Process

The tapiromorph specimen will be prepared under microscope with time-lapse photography. Still photography under different angles of visible light and ultraviolet light will help detect detail and soft tissue fossilization. After the fossil is prepared, it will be stored at the WSGS and available for scientific research and display at museums.

Follow Along!

Join us as we share progress on preparation and learn more about this unique specimen. We will be posting regular updates, including photos and information, as the specimen is unveiled from the rock. You can follow along on this web page and on our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).

We will be sharing CT scans and x-ray imagery of the specimen that allows us to see what is in the rock. Imagery was acquired with the help of Ivinson Memorial Hospital and Stitches Acute Care Center in Laramie.

Update: July 11, 2018

This time lapse video exposes the three-toed hind feet of the tapiromorph specimen. A still image of the slab was shown in the June 13 update.

Update: June 28, 2018

The new time lapse video below shows how preparator Mike Eklund unveiled the pelvic elements of the tapiromorph specimen.

Update: June 20, 2018

The video below shows a time lapse progression of researcher and preparator, Mike Eklund, exposing one of the legs and feet of the tapiromorph specimen.

Update: June 13, 2018

The latest discovery in one of the tapiromorph slabs is another pair of feet. There are three toes on each foot, indicating that these are the hind legs. Modern tapirs have three toes on their hind feet that help them walk on soft or muddy ground.

Three-toed hind feet of the tapiromorph specimen

Update: June 6, 2018

This series of photos shows the tapiromorph specimen preparator's work space. Mike Eklund prepares the specimen under microscope and has a camera(s) set to take photos every minute. The photos will be compiled into a time lapse showing the progression of preparation on each of the tapiromorph slabs.

Fish fossil on tapiromorph slab surface
Fish fossil on tapiromorph slab surface
Fish fossil on tapiromorph slab surface

Update: May 31, 2018

This photo shows a small fish fossil on the surface of one of the tapiromorph specimen slabs. Fish specimens are a common find in the Green River Formation.

Fish fossil on tapiromorph slab surface

Update: May 23, 2018

A CT scan of a tapiromorph specimen slab revealed a complete lower leg, but what we didn't notice in the imagery before was that there was a lower jaw with teeth, a vertebral column, and a scapula as well. This animation shows the reveal.

Tapiromorph slab reveal

Update: May 16, 2018

Left: Preparator and researcher Mike Eklund has successfully removed the matrix around what appears to be the complete foot, ankle, and lower leg anatomy of the tapiromorph specimen. Right: A close-up image of the tapiromorph specimen's toes. Since modern tapirs have four toes on their front feet and three on their hind feet, we can assume that this is a look at one of the specimen's front feet.

Tapiromorph lower leg and foot Close-up of tapiromorph toes

Update: May 9, 2018

This X-ray from Stitches Acute Care Center in Laramie, Wyoming, shows a portion of the tapiromorph's rib cage in a relatively small slab of rock (note the scale bar).

Tapiromorph rib cage in X-ray

Update: May 2, 2018

CT scan imagery taken at Ivinson Memorial Hospital shows what is potentially the complete foot, ankle, and lower leg bone structure of the tapiromorph specimen. Modern tapirs have four toes on their front feet and three on their back feet. If modern analogies are representative of this specimen, this image shows what appears to be a four-toed front foot.

Tapiromorph foot in CT scan

Update: April 27, 2018

The photos below show pieces of specimen in their natural state. Because the bones are encased in the rock, there's not much to see with the naked eye. The dark material jutting out from the thin sides of the slabs are fossilized bone material.

Example of tapir fossil slab Table full of tapir fossil specimen pieces