Megatherium, commonly known as the giant ground sloth was a very huge mammalian herbivore that became extinct over 11,000 years ago. A genus of elephant-sized animals such as mammoths, sloths, glyptodonts and armadillos, the Megatherium lived during the Pliocene through the Pleistocene epoch, thus existing for approximately 5.3 million years. It is asserted that this animal was the largest among the ground dwelling sloths with studies indicating that its size was proportional to the modern-day elephant. The story of this mammal as we know it today began in 1788, when a man named Manuel Torres discovered an almost complete skeleton of a large, bizarre animal in the banks of the River Lujan in northern Argentina. In the year that followed, the skeleton was shipped to the Cabinet of Natural History in Spain, where a scientist named Juan Bautista Bru assembled and illustrated it (Switek 1 ).French anatomist, George Cuvier named this spectacular animal Megatherium americanum after s observing the illustration. He went ahead and appraised the animal as an extinct creature of the small arboreal sloths of South American rainforests (Switek 1 )

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Characteristics of the Megatherium

Weighing almost as much as an African bull elephant, it is believed that the Megatherium was not only one of the largest mammals, but also the most impressive animals to walk on the earth’s surface.  This massive ground sloth was covered in long, heavy dark hair. Despite the fact that it primarily walked on its fours, its footprints reveal that the animal could also walk on its hind legs, thus assuming a bipedal stance like the bear (Switek 1). The bones in its feet were poorly arranged, thus making it impossible for the animal to place its feet flat on the ground. Apart from using its long claws on its forelegs for tree browsing, scientist argue that the claws were also used for defensive purposes against other predators such as the saber-toothed cats (). A well preserved hide that was discovered by a rancher in 1895 revealed that Megatherium had a built-in body armor. This is because of the small, tough, calcium nodules that were studded on the discovered hide. When it stood on its hind legs, the Megatherium measured about 6 meters (20 feet) from head to tail, which is twice an elephant’s height.  This ground sloth weighed about two to five tons. It is asserted that this mammal was among the largest ground-dwelling sloths.

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There are many fossil forms of Megatherium .the discovery of several complete skeletons of this mammal makes Megatherium the best known examples of ground-dwelling sloths. The first specimen of Megatherium was sent to Spain in 1789 after several scientists had examined it. It did not take long for the scientists to discover that the bones belonged to a large herbivore that had distinct characteristics and shape. This large mammal of the Pleistocene epoch had a robust skeleton, which was comprised of an extensive muscular tail and a large pelvic girdle. It had the ability of feeding at heights than other contemporary herbivores because of its adapted body and large size (BBC 1). This ability was enhanced by a combination of a powerful tail, which enabled it to form a tripod and strong hind legs. It is imperative to note that the Megatherium was considered an herbivore due to its large teeth that were confined to the sides of the jaw and claws. These large teeth and claws were meant for feeding on bushes and leaves of trees. Similar to the present-day tree sloth, it is argued that the huge jaws housed a long tongue that was able to pull the choicest leaves into its mouth. It could also use its long and curved forelegs to pull down tree leaves for food. Some experts are of the opinion that Megatherium might also have been an opportunistic carnivore that could slash, kill am devour other slow-moving herbivores of South America (Straus 1).

Habitat and Habit

Scientists believe that Megatherium loved the grassland and woodland environment of the slightly wooded areas of South America as recently as one thousand decades ago (BBC 1).  The species from South America is known from many sets of footprints that have been fossilized, hair, dung and even the many skeletons found. In regards to is distribution, different finds have come from as far south as Argentina and as far north as Texas. It is believed that Megatherium lived mostly in groups. On the other hand, a single Megatherium may have lived in caves. As stated above, the ground sloth may have used its strength and size to hunt or scavenge large, armored glyptodonts. For many yeas, Megatherium was able to live peacefully because no enemies would bother it. This means that the giant ground sloth must have been a diurnal animal.


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As stated earlier, Megatherium was an herbivore that fed on tree leaves such as agaves, yuccas and grasses. While the ground sloth fed on terrestrial plants, it could use its strong hind legs and tail to feed on upper growth vegetation. With the help of well-developed cheek muscles, this animal used its teeth to grind food before swallowing. Its stomach was well suited for the kind of food it consumed because it could fibrous as well as coarse foods. There is a possibility that Megatherium spent most of its time resting for easy digestion.

To sum this up, Megatherium was an impressive animal that walked the earth. Its scientific name means “giant beast.” It was a huge ground-dwelling sloth, which was covered with long, thick and dark hair. It had massive claws, and could walk on its twos as well as its fours. The animal thrived in the grasslands and woodlands of South America. The animal was an herbivore, which could kill and devour other animals.

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