Temporal range: Miocene-Holocene
An artist's illustration of Toxodon platensis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Notoungulata
Family: Toxodontidae
Subfamily: Toxodontinae
Genus: Toxodon
Owen, 1837
Type species
Toxodon platensis
Referred species
  • Toxodon chapadmalensis
  • Toxodon darwini
  • Toxodon ensenadense
  • Toxodon platensis
Toxodon is an extinct mammal of the late Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs about 2.6 million to 16,500 years ago. It was indigenous to South America, and was probably the most common large-hoofed mammal in South America at the time of its existence.

Charles Darwin was one of the first to collect Toxodon fossils, after paying 18 pence for a T. platensis skull from a farmer in Uruguay. In The Voyage of the Beagle Darwin wrote "November 26th - I set out on my return in a direct line for Monte Video. Having heard of some giant's bones at a neighbouring farmhouse on the Sarandis, a small stream entering the Rio Negro, I rode there accompanied by my host, and purchased for the value of eighteen pence the head of the taxodon." Since Darwin discovered that the fossils of similar mammals of South America were different than those in Europe, he invoked many debates about the evolution and natural selection of animals.

Toxodon was about 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) in body length, and about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) high at the shoulder and resembled a heavy rhinoceros, with a hippopotamus-like head. Because of the position of its nasal openings, it is believed that Toxodon had a well developed snout. It had a massive skeleton, which suggests that it supported a large muscular body. It had short stout legs with three functional toes, with most of the body weight being borne by the central toe.

The vertebrae were equipped with high apophyses, which most likely supported the massive weight and muscles as well as its powerful head. Toxodon had broad jaws which were filled with bow shaped teeth and incisors. These teeth would have allowed the animal to tear through and bite off the plants and leaves.

It was initially believed to have been amphibious, but after examining the proportions of the femur and tibia, as well as the position of its head, below the top of the spinal column, palaeontologists realised that it had features similar to terrestrial animals such as elephants or rhinoceroses. The fossils are also usually found in arid and semi-arid areas, typically an indication of a primarily terrestrial life.

Toxodon became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene. Many Toxodon fossils have been found accompanied by arrow heads. This shows that prehistoric humans hunted them, which could have been a leading cause of their demise.

Toxodon classification and Fact file:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Notoungulata
Family: Toxodontidae
Subfamily Toxodontinae
Genus: Toxodon
Species: T.platensis, T.chapadmalensis, T.darwini, T.ensenadense
Length: 2.7 metres (8.9 feet)
Height: 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) at shoulder
Weight: 1-2 tons
Named by: Richard Owen;1837
Diet: Plants (Pampa grass)

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