The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene period and extends from about 23.03 to 5.33 million years before the present. As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the start and end are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the period are uncertain. The Miocene was named by Sir Charles Lyell. Its name comes from the Greek words μείων (meiōn, “less”) and καινός (kainos, “new”) and means "less recent" because it has 18% (fewer than the Pliocene) of modern sea invertebrates. The Miocene follows the Oligocene Epoch and is followed by the Pliocene Epoch. The Miocene is the first epoch of the Neogene Period.

As the earth cooled, it went from the Oligocene epoch through the Miocene and into the Pliocene. The Miocene boundaries are not set at an easily identified worldwide event but rather at regional boundaries between the warmer Oligocene and the cooler Pliocene.

The plants and animals of the Miocene were fairly modern. Mammals and birds were well-established. Whales, seals, and kelp spread.


The Miocene faunal stages from youngest to oldest are typically named according to the International Commission on Stratigraphy:

Messinian (7.246 – 5.332 mya)
Tortonian (11.608 – 7.246 mya)
Serravallian (13.65 – 11.608 mya)
Langhian (15.97 – 13.65 mya)
Burdigalian (20.43 – 15.97 mya)
Aquitanian (23.03 – 20.43 mya)

These subdivisions within the Miocene are defined by the relative abundance of different species of calcareous nanofossils (calcite platelets shed by brown single-celled algae) and foraminifera (single-celled protists with diagnostic shells). Two subdivisions each form the Early, Middle and Late Miocene.

Regionally, other systems are used. These ages often extend across the ICS epoch boundary into the Pliocene and Oligocene:


Australian Miocene ages are very finely divided in the early Middle Miocene, while most of the rest of the Miocene had a rather constant fauna as far as is known:
Mitchellian (10.5 – 5 mya); extends into the Early Pliocene
Bairnsdalian (15 – 10.5 mya)
Balcombian (15.5 – 15 mya)
Batesfordian (16.5 – 15.5 mya)
Longfordian (27.5 – 16.5 mya); includes much of the Late Oligocene


Californian sites, which are derived from the former Farallon Plate, provide a sequence distinct from the main North American one:
Delmontian (7.5 – 2.9 mya); includes much of the Pliocene
Mohnian (13.5 – 7.5 mya)
Luisian (15.5 – 13.5 mya)
Relizian (16.5 – 15.5 mya)
Saucesian (22 – 16.5 mya)
Zemorrian (33.5 – 22 mya); includes nearly all the Oligocene


Japanese Miocene ages only start in the mid-Burdigalian; the ICS ages are used in much of the Early Miocene:
Yuian (9.5 – 3.6 mya); includes the Early Pliocene
Fujian (11.1 – 9.5 mya)
Kaburan (13.5 – 11.1 mya)
Tozawan (15.97 – 13.5 mya)
Haranoyan (18.2 – 15.97 mya)

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the following ages are recognized:
Kapitean (6 – 4.8 mya); extends into the Early Pliocene
Tongaporutuan (10 – 6 mya)
Waiauan (11.5 – 10 mya)
Lillburnian (15 – 11.5 mya)
Cliffdenian (16.5 – 15 mya)
Altonian (17.5 – 16.5 mya)
Awamoan (20 – 17.5 mya)
Hutchinsonian (21 – 20 mya)
Otaian (23.03 – 21 mya)

North America

In most of North America, faunal stages are defined according to the land mammal fauna (North American Land Mammal Ages or NALMAs):

Hemphillian (9 – 4.75 mya); includes much of the Early Pliocene
Clarendonian (11.8 – 9 mya)
Barstovian (15.5 – 11.8 mya)
Hemingfordian (19 – 15.5 mya)
Arikareean (30.5 – 19 mya); includes much of the Oligocene

South America

In South America, a system similar to the North American one is used; its periods are correspondingly called SALMAs (South American Land Mammal Ages):
Huayquerian (9 – 5.4 mya); the Montehermosan barely extends into the Miocene
Chasicoan (10 – 9 mya)
Mayoian (12 – 10 mya)
Laventan (13.8 – 12 mya)
Colloncurian (15.5 – 12 mya)
Friasian (16.3 – 15.5 mya)
Santacrucian (17.5 – 16.3 mya)
Colhuehuapian (21 – 17.5 mya)
Deseadan (29 – 21 mya); includes much of the Oligocene


Continents continued to drift toward their present positions. Of the modern geologic features, only the land bridge between South America and North America was absent, although South America was approaching the western subduction zone in the Pacific Ocean, causing both the rise of the Andes and a southward extension of the Meso-American peninsula.

Mountain building took place in Western North America and Europe. Both continental and marine Miocene deposits are common worldwide with marine outcrops common near modern shorelines. Well studied continental exposures occur in the American Great Plains and in Argentina.

India continued to collide with Asia, creating more mountain ranges. The Tethys Seaway continued to shrink and then disappeared as Africa collided with Eurasia in the Turkish-Arabian region between 19 and 12 mya. Subsequent uplift of mountains in the western Mediterranean region and a global fall in sea levels combined to cause a temporary drying up of the Mediterranean Sea (known as the Messinian salinity crisis) near the end of the Miocene.

The global trend was one towards increasing aridity caused primarily by global cooling reducing the ability of the atmosphere to absorb moisture. Uplift of East Africa in the Late Miocene was partly responsible for the shrinking of tropical rain forests in that region, and Australia got drier as it entered a zone of low rainfall in the Late Miocene.



Grasslands underwent a major expansion; forests fell victim to a generally cooler and drier climate overall. Grasses also diversified greatly, co-evolving with large herbivores and grazers, including ruminants. Between 7 and 6 million years ago, there occurred a sudden expansion of grasses which were able to assimilate carbon dioxide more efficiently but were also richer in silica, causing a worldwide extinction of large herbivores. The expansion of grasslands and radiations among terrestrial herbivores such as horses can be linked to fluctuations in CO2..


Both marine and continental fauna were fairly modern, although marine mammals were less numerous. Only in isolated South America and Australia did widely divergent fauna exist. Mammals were also modern, with recognizable wolves, raccoons, horses, beaver, deer, camels, and whales.

Recognizable crows, ducks, auks, grouses and owls appear in the Miocene. By the epoch's end, all or almost all modern bird families are believed to have been present; the few post-Miocene bird fossils which cannot be placed in the evolutionary tree with full confidence are simply too badly preserved instead of too equivocal in character. Marine birds reached their highest diversity ever in the course of this epoch.

Brown algae, called kelp, proliferate, supporting new species of sea life, including otters, fish and various invertebrates. The cetaceans diversified, and some modern genera appeared, such as the sperm whales. The pinnipeds, which appeared near the end of the Oligocene, became more aquatic.

Approximately 100 species of apes lived during this time. They occupied much of the Old World and ranged in size, diet, and anatomy. Due to scanty fossil evidence it is unclear which ape or apes contributed to the modern hominoid clade, but molecular evidence indicates this ape lived from between 15 to 12 million years ago.

In the oceans, modern sharks appeared at this time including the huge Megalodon. Cetaceans, such as dolphins, whales, and porpoises evolved.


East Antarctica had some glaciers during the early Miocene (23-15 million years ago). Oceans cooled partly due the formation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, and about 15 million years ago the ice cap in the southern hemisphere started to grow to its present form. The Greenland ice cap developed later, in Pliocene time, about 3 million years ago.

Middle Miocene disruption

See also



  • (1998): The Cenozoic Retrieved 2008-SEP-20.
  • (2008): The impact of Miocene atmospheric carbon dioxide fluctuations on climate and the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems. PNAS 105(2): 449-453. (HTML abstract) Supporting tables
  • (2005): GeoWhen Database Retrieved 2006-09-23.
  • (1999): Earth system history. Freeman, New York. ISBN 0716728826

Further reading

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