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Temporal range: Guadalupian epoch, Capitanian stage
Tapinocephalus DB.jpg
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Order: Therapsida
Suborder: Dinocephalia
Family: Tapinocephalidae
Genus: Tapinocephalus
Owen, 1876
Binomial name
Tapinocephalus atherstonei
  • Phocosaurus
  • Taurops

Tapinocephalus ("humble head") is a genus of large herbivorous dinocephalian that lived during the Middle Permian Period. These stocky, barrel-bodied animals were characterised by a massive bony skull roof and short weak snout. It is thought that, like the rest of the members of its family, the animals engaged in head-butting intraspecific behavior, possibly for territory or mates.

The fossil remains (skull and postcranial elements) of Tapinocephalus are known from the Lower, Middle, and Upper part of the Tapinocephalus Assemblage Zone ( Capitanian age) of the Lower Beaufort Beds of the South African Karoo. Only the type species, T. atherstonei is now considered valid for this genus.

In life, these animals were over 3 metres (10 ft) in length and massed around 1.5 to 2 tonnes (3,300 to 4,400 lb), making them among the largest animals of their time.


Tapinocephalus atherstonei shoulder girdle and front limb, specimen 5611

Tapinocephalus atherstonei is the only species of this genus. It is known from a number of skulls and postcranial bones. The skull is large with a heavily pachyostotic skull roof, a massive bony frontals and a short weak Moschops-like snout. Taurops is a synonym. This successful animal survived right until the end of the Tapinocephalus zone. Phocosaurus megischion differs from Tapinocephalus only in that the transition from the frontals to the snout is not abrupt. In view of the fact that it too continues until the upper Tapinocephalus zone.

See also[edit]


  • Boonstra, L.D. 1956, "The skull of Tapinocephalus and its near relatives" Annals of the South African Museum, 43 Part 3 pp. 137-169, 17 figs, plate 4.
  • ----- 1969. The fauna of the Tapinocephalus Zone (Beaufort beds of the Karoo). Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 56:1–73.
  • King, Gillian M., 1988 "Anomodontia" Part 17 C, Encyclopedia of Paleoherpetology, Gutsav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart and New York.

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