Ancient animal), a name applied by Cuvier to the remains of ungulate mammals recalling tapirs in general appearance, from the Lower Oligocene gypsum quarries of Paris.
Although palaeotheres resemble tapirs in general appearance, they differ in having only three toes on the fore as well as on the hind foot.
In the tapirs and many extinct forms the fifth toe also remains on the fore-limb, but its presence does not interfere with the symmetrical arrangement of the remainder of the foot on each side of the median line of the third or middle digit.
The Perissodactyla may be divided into the four following sections, namely the extinct Titanotheroidea, the Hippoidea, represented by the horse tribe and their ancestors, the Tapiroidea, typified by the tapirs, and the Rhinocerotoidea, which includes the modern rhinoceroses and their forerunners.
In North America the earliest representative of the group is Systemodon of the Lower Eocene, in which all the upper premolars are quite simple; while the molars are of a type which would readily develop into that of the modern tapirs, both outer columns being conical and of equal size.
Tapirs are common to the Malay countries and tropical America: two species from the latter area differ from the .rest in having a vertical bony partition to the nasal septum, and are hence subgenerically or generically separated as Tapirella (Elasmognathus) (see Tapir).
In Anoplotherium, some of the species of which were larger than tapirs, there were either two or three toes, the latter number being almost unique among the Artiodactyla.
Tapirs are an ancient group with many of the original characters of the primitive Ungulates of the Oligocene period, and have undergone but little change since the Miocene.
Tapirs are massively built, with short stout limbs, elongated head, and the nose and upper lip produced to form a short flexible trunk.
In habits all tapirs appear to be very similar.
The singular fact of the existence of animals so closely allied as the Malayan and the American tapirs in such distant regions of the earth and in no intervening places is accounted for by the geological history of the race, for the tapirs once had a very wide distribution.
There is no proof of their having lived in the Oligocene epoch, but in deposits of Miocene and Pliocene date remains undistinguishable generically and perhaps specifically from the modern tapirs (though named priscus, T.
Tapirs appear, however, to have become extinct in Europe before the Pleistocene period, as none of their bones or teeth have been found in any of the caves or alluvial deposits in which those of elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses occur in abundance; but in other regions their distribution at this age was far wider than at present, as they are known to have extended eastward to China (T.
Thus there is no difficulty in tracing the common origin in the Miocene tapirs of Europe of the now widely separated American and Asiatic species.
Tapirs are to be found in the eastern forests, the peccary in more open woodlands, and the opossum in nearly every part of the country.