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Temporal range: Eocene, 45–37 Ma
Museum of Natural History Uintatherium.jpg
Cast of the skeleton, French National Museum of Natural History in the Paris
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Dinocerata
Family: Uintatheriidae
Genus: Uintatherium
Leidy, 1872
  • U. anceps (Marsh, 1871)
  • U. insperatus Tong & Wang 1981
  • Dinoceras Marsh, 1872
  • Ditetrodon
  • Elachoceras
  • Octotomus
  • Tinoceras
  • Uintamastix

Uintatherium ("Beast of the Uinta Mountains") is an extinct genus of herbivorous mammal that lived during the Eocene epoch. Two species are currently recognized: U. anceps from the United States during the Early to Middle Eocene (56-38 million years ago) and U. insperatus of Middle to Late Eocene (48-34 million years ago) China.[1]



Uintatherium was a large browsing animal. With a length of about 4 m (13 ft), a height of 1.70 m (5.6 ft), and a weight up to 2 tonnes, it was similar to today's rhinoceros, both in size and in shape.[2] Its legs were robust to sustain the weight of the animal and were equipped with hooves.[3] Moreover, a Uintathere's sternum was made up of horizontal segments, unlike today's rhinos, which have compressed vertical segments.[4]


Its most unusual feature was the skull, which is both large and strongly built, but simultaneously flat and concave: this feature is rare and, apart from some brontotheres, not regularly characteristic of any other known mammal. Its cranial cavity was exceptionally small due to the walls of the cranium being exceedingly thick. The weight of the skull was mitigated by numerous sinuses permeating the walls of the cranium, like those in an elephant's skull.

The large upper canine teeth might have served as formidable defensive weapons, and superficially resembled those of saber-toothed cats. Sexually dimorphic, the teeth were larger in males than in females. However, they also might have used them to pluck the aquatic plants from marshes that seem to have comprised their diet.

The skulls of the males bore six prominent knob-like ossicones that grew from the frontal region of the skull. The function of these structures is unknown. They may have been of use in defense and/or sexual display.


Skeleton of U. anceps at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan

The fossils of Uintatherium are among the largest and most impressive of the finds at the excavation of Fort Bridger in Wyoming, and were a focal point of the Bone Wars between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. Between them, Marsh and Cope claimed the discovery of U. anceps specimens as discoveries of new species on twenty-two separate occasions (and therefore, originally gave these specimens many different names aside from Uintatherium anceps).[5]

Fossils of U. anceps have been found in the Bridger and Wakashie rock formations, in the states of Wyoming and Utah near the Uinta Mountains, which are commemorated in the generic name. An almost intact skull of U. insperatus was found in the lower part of the Lushi Formation of the Lushi Basin in Henan Province, China.[1]

A cast of a Uintatherium skeleton is on display at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park. The skeleton of Uintatherium is also on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.[6]


  1. ^ a b Tong, Yongsheng; Wang Jingwen (July 1981). "A SKULL OF UINTATHERIUM FROM HENAN" (PDF). Vertebrata PalAsiatica. XIX (3): 208–214.
  2. ^ http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/mammals/Iceagemammals.shtml
  3. ^ Joseph Leidy (1873). "Contribution to the extinct vertebrate fauna of the Western Territories". Geological Survey of the Territories. 1.
  4. ^ Restoration of Dinoceras mirabile by Charles Othniel Marsh
  5. ^ Bill Bryson, "A Short History Of Nearly Everything", Doubleday (2003).
  6. ^ http://paleobiology.si.edu/geotime/main/htmlversion/evidence/eoc_02.html

Further reading[edit]