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New genus of tiny deer discovered in South Dakota

todayMay 9, 2024 3

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INTERIOR, S.D. (KELO) — A team of researchers from Badlands National Park, the American Museum of Natural History and California State Polytechnic University have discovered a fossil belonging to a previously undiscovered genus of deer that lived in South Dakota nearly 32 million years ago.

According to a press release from Badland’s National Park, a new genus of tiny, hornless deer was discovered in the Badlands National Park this week and published in Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Science. The research was headed by Mattison Shreero and Ed Welsh.

The new deer, Santuccimeryx (“Santucci’s ruminant”), was named after Vincent L. Santucci, the Senior Paleontologist and Paleontology Program Coordinator in the Geologic Resources Division of the National Park Service, which is intended to honor his history with and advocacy for the paleontology program at Badlands National Park.  

“I am both personally and professionally grateful to be associated with this important new fossil discovery from Badlands National Park, where I began my career as a paleontologist with the National Park Service in 1985,” Santucci said in the news release.  

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The research states that Santuccimeryx belongs to the extinct family Leptomerycidae, and its skull shares features of both the Oligocene genus Leptomeryx and the Miocene genus Pseudoparablastomeryx, two animals that are nearly 10 million years apart in time. The family Leptomerycidae were about the size of house cats and lived in North America from the late-middle Eocene (about 41 million years ago) to the end of the middle Miocene (about 11 million years ago). They are considered close relatives to the living chevrotains, or mouse deer, from the tropical forests of central and western Africa and Southeast Asia.  

Shreero said the newly discovered Santuccimeryx has teeth similar to Leptomeryx and a skull more akin to Pseudoparablastomeryx, and since it does not fit into either existing genus, she and Welsh concluded the deer must be placed into a new genus of its own. 

The first and only known skull of Santuccimeryx, which prompted this research, was discovered at Badlands in 2016, through a Visitor Site Report submitted by Geoscientists-in-the-Parks intern Tiffany Leone.

“It’s a really neat example with this paper to be able to highlight citizen science, because this is the only skull of this animal ever found,” Shreero said in the news release. “And if somebody had walked away with it, or if they just hadn’t reported it and it had eroded away, we would have never known about it.” 

Badlands National Park asks those who spot what they think may be a fossil or artifact to leave it in place and submit a Visitor Site Report at the Visitor Center. The information can be emailed to [email protected]. They are asked to take a photo of the undisturbed find and document the coordinates or location of the find.

Visitors at Badlands who spot what they think might be a fossil or artifact are asked to leave it in place and submit a Visitor Site Report at the Visitor Center, with a park ranger, or by emailing information about their find to [email protected]. They should take a photo of the undisturbed find, preferably with another object or feature in sight to show scale, and document the coordinates or location of the find. 

To view more images of the newly discovered deer, click here.

Written by: The Dam Rock Station

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