Tapir | Exploring the World of Wildlife: facts about the Tapir

A tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal that is similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile snout. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia.

There are four recognized species of tapirs: the Brazilian tapir (also known as the South American tapir), the Malayan tapir (also known as the Asian tapir), the Baird’s tapir, and the mountain tapir. In 2013, a fifth species, the Kabomani tapir, was claimed to have been validated, but as of my last knowledge update in September 2021, this is still a matter of debate in the scientific community.

Tapirs have a distinctive, flexible snout that is a combined nose and upper lip.

Just like some types of monkeys have prehensile tails that they can use to grasp things, tapirs have a snout that can move in all directions and grab onto objects. This is particularly useful when they’re trying to reach for leaves, fruit, and branches that might be just out of reach of their mouth.

Not only is the snout used to grasp food, but it’s also a sensory organ. Tapirs use their snout to explore their environment, find food, and even interact with other tapirs.

When tapirs swim, they can use their snout like a snorkel, sticking it above the water’s surface to breathe while the rest of their body remains submerged.

The snout is formed from a modified nose and upper lip, and has specialized muscles that provide its flexibility and dexterity.

The snout helps tapirs feed in various ways. They can strip leaves from branches, pluck fruit, or dig for roots and shoots.

So, the snout of a tapir is a unique adaptation that is integral to its feeding, sensory perception, and even its social behavior. It’s a great example of how evolution shapes species to fit their environments and lifestyles.

Tapirs have been around for a long time. The first tapirs emerged  during the Eocene epoch, which began around 56 million years ago, long after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, which occurred around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period.

However, the basic form of the tapir has remained relatively stable over those millions of years, which indicates that their body plan has been successful for their ecological niche. This phenomenon, where a species or group of species remains morphologically similar for an extended period, is sometimes referred to as evolutionary stasis.

There have been many species of tapirs throughout history, and some of those extinct species were much larger than the ones we have today. The fossils of these extinct species provide valuable information about the history of these fascinating creatures and the environments in which they lived.

Tapirs are excellent swimmers and often live near water sources.

Tapirs are not just surface swimmers — they are able to dive under the water’s surface to forage for aquatic vegetation. They are quite agile in water, a skill that helps them evade land-based predators.

Water also provides tapirs a way to cool off in hot weather. They often wallow in water bodies to help regulate their body temperature.

In addition to foraging, tapirs often use water as a safe haven to escape from predators. If threatened, they will often head for water where they can swim away or hide under the surface, breathing through their snorkel-like snout.

Tapirs have strong, sturdy legs that are good not only for walking through dense underbrush in the forest, but also for moving in the water. They are able to navigate both shallow and deep water.

Their love for water is so pronounced that some cultures with a historical presence of tapirs in their fauna even regard them as semi-aquatic creatures. It is indeed a good example of how an animal can adapt to use various aspects of its environment for survival.

Tapirs are mostly nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the night and during twilight hours. They spend the majority of their daytime hours resting, often submerged in water.

Being nocturnal, tapirs are most active during the night. This is the time when they feed, explore their environment, and socialize.

As crepuscular creatures, tapirs are also often active during the twilight hours, at dawn and dusk. This is when they might travel to and from their resting spots or seek out particular food resources.

During the day, tapirs often rest in secluded places, such as dense underbrush or water bodies. Submerging themselves in water not only helps them cool off, but also aids in hiding from potential predators.

Their eyes are adapted to help them see in the dim light of the forest understorey, and their excellent sense of smell helps them find food and avoid predators when visibility is low.

Being active primarily during the night and twilight hours is likely an adaptation for avoiding predators that are active during the day.

In summary, a tapir’s daily routine is very different from ours. They rest during the day and get most of their business done during the night and twilight hours. This routine, combined with their physical adaptations, has been successful for them across millions of years of evolution.

Tapirs are sizable animals. They may not be as big as elephants or rhinos, but they are certainly not small.

Adult tapirs typically measure between 6 to 8 feet in length.

In terms of shoulder height, tapirs generally stand about 3 to 3.5 feet tall.

They weigh between 330 to 660 lbs, with some male Malayan tapirs known to exceed this, reaching up to 1,190 lbs.

The Baird’s tapir is the largest of the American species, while the Malayan tapir is the largest overall.

In most tapir species, females are slightly larger than males.

Their considerable size is one of the reasons why adult tapirs have few natural predators, although young tapirs are more vulnerable. The size also allows them to traverse through dense undergrowth in the forests, clearing paths for smaller animals.

The Malayan tapir is particularly distinctive because it has a two-toned coloration.

The Malayan tapir’s front half, forelegs and shoulders, and its back half, hind legs and rump, are black, while its middle section, sides and belly, is white or light grey. This contrast makes it one of the most easily recognizable tapir species.

This coloration isn’t just for show it serves an important purpose. When light filters through the forest canopy, it creates a dappled pattern on the forest floor, and the tapir’s coloration can help it blend in with this environment.

This color scheme is an example of disruptive coloration, a form of camouflage that breaks up the animal’s outline, making it harder to distinguish against the background.

Interestingly, newborn Malayan tapirs are not the same color as their parents. They are born with a pattern of spots and stripes that provides camouflage in the sun-dappled undergrowth of the forest. This pattern gradually fades over the first six months of their life, being replaced by the adult coloration.

So while the Malayan tapir’s coloration is certainly eye-catching, it’s also a crucial survival tool that helps these animals stay hidden from predators in their natural habitat.

Tapirs have a long gestation period.

Female tapirs typically have a gestation period of about 13 months, although this can vary slightly depending on the species. This is one of the longest gestation periods among terrestrial mammals.

Tapirs usually give birth to a single offspring at a time, although twin births have been reported, but they are extremely rare.

Baby tapirs, known as calves, are born with a coat of reddish-brown hair covered in white spots and stripes. This provides excellent camouflage in the dappled light of the rainforest understory. Over time, these spots and stripes fade to the more solid coloration of adulthood.

After birth, the mother tapir takes care of the calf. Calves stay with their mothers for about 18 months to 2 years, during which time they learn the necessary survival skills before they start their own independent life.

Tapirs reach sexual maturity at about three years of age. When a female is in estrus and ready to mate, she will produce a strong-smelling substance to attract males.

Given the long gestation period, and the fact that they usually only produce one offspring at a time, it’s not surprising that tapir populations grow slowly. This, combined with threats such as habitat loss and hunting, makes them vulnerable to population decline.

Tapirs have four toes on their front feet and three on their back feet. This makes their footprints easy to identify in the wild.

Each toe ends in a small, hoof-like structure.

When a tapir walks, it leaves behind a unique footprint. The print usually shows the three or four toes clearly, with the three-toed hind footprint appearing smaller than the four-toed forefoot print.

These footprints can be used by researchers and trackers to identify the presence of tapirs in an area.

The structure of tapirs’ feet is adapted to their environment. Their feet are well-suited to the soft and muddy ground of the rainforest, allowing them to navigate this terrain without sinking in too deeply.

So the unique footprints of tapirs are not just a curiosity — they are an adaptation to their environment and a valuable tool for those who study these fascinating animals.

Unfortunately, all species of tapir are considered endangered or vulnerable, primarily due to hunting, habitat loss, and fragmentation caused by deforestation for agriculture and urban development. Efforts are being made in many parts of the world to protect tapirs and their habitats in order to ensure their survival.

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