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New genus of tiny, hornless deer that roamed South Dakota 32 million years ago discovered

A high definition photo of the Santuccimeryx skull discovered at Badlands National Park in 2016. — National Park Service

(NEW YORK) — A new genus of tiny, hornless deer that lived in South Dakota during the Oligocene Epoch approximately 32 million years ago has been discovered by a team of researchers from Badlands National Park, the American Museum of Natural History and California State Polytechnic University, officials said.


The new deer, called Santuccimeryx, meaning “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 “to honor his history with and advocacy for the paleontology program at Badlands National Park,” according to a statement from the National Park Service announcing the discovery.

The research was published this week in the “Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Science.”

“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,” NPS said in their statement. “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.”

The new genus of deer has teeth very similar to Leptomeryx and a skull resembling that of the Pseudoparablastomeryx, officials said.

“Since it does not fit into either existing genus, [officials] concluded the deer must be placed into a new genus of its own,” NPS said.

“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.

The research was prompted when the first — and still only known skull of the deer — was discovered at Badlands in 2016.

“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,” Mattison Shreero, who headed up the research, said. “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.”

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 email information about their find to Badlands_fossil_finds@nps.gov.

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