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Temporal range: Tortonian
Zygophyseter BW.jpg
Reconstruction of Zygophyseter varolai
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Superfamily: Physeteroidea
Family: incertae sedis
Genus: Zygophyseter
Species: Z. varolai
Bianucci & Landini, 2006

Zygophyseter varolai is an extinct cetacean, similar to the sperm whale. The common name of "killer sperm whale" refers both to its relation to modern day sperm whales, and to its similarity in size to and its "probable similar feeding adaptation to the extant delphinid killer whale (Orcinus orca)".[1]


The genus name Zygophyseter emphasizes the elongation of the zygomatic process of the only known species Zygophyseter varolai, while the term Physeter refers to the type genus of the family Physeteridae. The Latin species name honors the discoverer Angelo Varola. [2]

Fossil records[edit]

Cast of skull with teeth and mandible of Zygophyseter varolai

The genus Zygophyseter is known in the fossil records on the basis of an almost complete skeleton of Zygophyseter varolai, discovered in Southern Italy in the marine lime mudstone of the Pietra Leccese Formation and described in 2006 by G. Bianucci and W. Landini. This species dates back to the Tortonian Age of the Late Miocene Epoch (age range from 11.608 to 7.246 millions years ago). [1][3]


Zygophyseter varolai had a large body, reaching an estimated length of 6.5–7 metres (21–23 ft).[2] The large teeth are present in both jaws, making it capable of feeding on large prey.[1] It had a very long zygomatic process, probably for housing the spermaceti organ. Like in all modern sperm whales, this species had very large basin above the braincase which housed the spermaceti organ and melon. indicating that it was able to echolocate.[4]

Related species[edit]

Zygophyseter varolai specimen


  1. ^ a b c Bianucci, Giovanni, & Landini, Walter. (2006). "Killer sperm whale: a new basal physeteroid (Mammalia, Cetacea) from the Late Miocene of Italy". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 148: 103–131. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2006.00228.x. Retrieved February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Karen's Komments - A New Killer Sperm Whale from Italy – Zygophyseter
  3. ^ Paleobiology Database
  4. ^ Boessenecker, Robert. "Zygophyseter varolai". NYIT. Retrieved February 2015. 

External links[edit]