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Extinct California Tapir (Tapirus californicus) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

California Tapir (Tapirus californicus)

How Do We Know This?

Careful study of fossil bone or tooth anatomy yields much
exact information about placement and strength of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves,
and blood vessels. In rare cases, skin and hair impressions or actual skin or hair remains.
Body weight is more difficult to gauge because fat leaves no impression on the skeleton.

Physical Characteristics

Estimated Body Weight
estimated somewhat less than 225 kg (496 lb)
Head-Body Length
estimated 140 cm (4.6 ft); no known complete fossil skeletal remains

General Appearance

General Description

  • A stout-bodied herbivore with short legs, a large tapered head with a short muscular proboscis.
  • Four toes on the front limbs, three on the hindlimbs.


  • Molar teeth have two main cusps joined by enamel ridges (bilophodont); shape changed only slightly over millions of years.
  • Dental formula same as living tapir: Six upper-jaw and six lower incisiors; two canines upper and two lower; eight premolars upper, six lower; six molars upper and six molars lower (total 42 teeth).


  • Unknown

Sexual Dimorphism

  • No evidence to date

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • Nasal bones in skull are shortened to allow for attachment of muscles and ligaments of a fleshy snout (proboscis) (Colbert and Schoch 1998)

Page Citations

Colbert & Schoch (1998)

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