Wednesday, April 17, 2013

BLUEGRASS WILD Species descriptions part 1. The Vero Tapir.

          I have been receiving a lot of inquiries about the animals that are featured in the Bluegrasswild mural series and since space was restricted on the postcards and not to get too wordy on the website, I wanted to go into more detail about the animals here on the blog.  I'll explain a little about the Pleistocene creature depicted in the mural, how I reconstructed it and resources I used to do so, and a brief bio about the living analogues of the animals.  So without Further ado, we will start with the Vero Tapir.

Vero Tapir
Tapirus veroensis
In 1989 fossil jaws were discovered at Hill Top Cave in Trigg County Kentucky.  The Vero Tapir was found in the southern United States and was probably very like the temperate Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) of today.

          Tapirs are very interesting animals, and I have been fascinated by them since childhood and I remember seeing one at the Cincinnati zoo, the large black and white Maylayan Tapir and being intrigued by it's coloring.  I learned that Tapirs belong to the group of ungulates known as Perissodactyla or, the odd toed ungulates, a group that also includes horses and Rhinoceros.  There are only a few living species of Perissodactylids compared to the numerous diversity of their hoofed cousins the Artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates such as deer, goats, antelope, cattle, giraffes, and camels (which interestingly enough also used to exist in Kentucky).  Although modern Perissodactylids are not nearly as diverse as now as the Artiodactylids, they still are very familiar to us in the form of horses, especially for us here in Kentucky.  The fossil diversity of Perissodactylids had a much broader range of species than their surviving members and they were once just as diverse as the Artiodactylids and included truly enormous animals larger than living elephants like Paraceratherium, a gigantic hornless Rhinoceros-like animal from Asia.  

          The Vero Tapir ok the Kentucky Pleistocene is only know from fragmentary remains, a few jaws and teeth but based on their shape and size they were clearly of a Tapir about the same size as modern day tapirs.  For The reconstruction I basically had modern living species of Tapirs to compare with.  I had always liked the coloration of the baby tapirs of today, which have coats involving intensive spotting and camouflage markings to break up their outline.

Photo by

           Most of the stripes and spots fade away as the babies grow to adulthood, much like whitetail fawns.  I wanted to include an animal that still retained some of it's variegation into adulthood but still chose to mute the dark splotches on the animals side.  For added drama and effect, I also elected to drape a shadow of an oak branch over the animal, to add depth and position it in it's prime habitat, a low browser capable of navigating very dense forests and jungles, in this case a temperate deciduous oak forests of Pleistocene Kentucky.  Thanks for reading, don't forget to stop by to view the finished pieces and I'll be posting next week about extinct horses of the Bluegrass State.

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