Side-by-side, the skulls of “Big Boy,” left, and “Little Guy,” right. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Rachel Short.)
Teleoceras is a widespread Miocene rhinoceros that has been reported in North American faunas from approximately 20 million years ago to approximately 5 million years ago. The Gray Fossil Site represents one of the last known populations of North American rhinoceroses.
In 2000, late Miocene fossils were found during road construction near Gray, Tennessee, and the Gray Fossil Site was established at the location. There, the fossil material at the site is found primarily in an organic-rich clay deposit that filled a large sinkhole. This sinkhole once served as a watering hole for local fauna, including tapirs, red pandas, alligators and turtles, she said.
Fossils from a minimum of six rhinoceroses, including two nearly complete, articulated skeletons, have been unearthed, Short said, and while Wallace knew they were different, they weren’t studied until she started her master’s thesis in 2011. Availability of such complete specimens enabled a thorough bone-by-bone description of the new species.
Excavations are still ongoing, and as more material is uncovered, the understanding of this unique fauna will improve, she said.
More information on the Gray Fossil Site is available on the Center of Excellence in Paleontology website.
The publication on the new rhinoceros species can be found in the Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History.