The family to which the modern tapirs belong, the Tapiridae, can be traced back as far as the Early Oligocene, about 40 million years ago. The 4 species of living tapirs are all placed in the single genus Tapirus. Two species occur in Central America and northern South America and 2 in Southeast Asia: none remain in the group's original northern stronghold. This scattered "relict" distribution has often been cited as evidence for the existence of the southern supercontinent of Gondwanaland. It is supposed that the animals reached their present homes by migrating overland before the continents slowly drifted apart.
name: Miotapirus time: Early Niocene locality: North America size: 6 ft 6 in/2 m long
The characteristic tapir features — a heavy body, short legs and tail, a large head with a short flexible snout, and a short neck — appeared early in the evolution of perissodactyls and have remained unchanged ever since. Miotapirus was probably nocturnal, as arc members of the living specics Tapirus, and may have been just as versatile — fossils have been found from sea level up to heights of 15,000 ft/4,500 m.
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