Most people have heard of woolly mammoths. But another group of giant animals called Megatherium once roamed the earth even before the Ice Age.
Meet the giant ground sloth.
Megatherium (which translates quite aptly to “great beast”) is one of the largest known land-based mammals, eclipsed only by mammoths and an ancient species of rhinoceros called Paraceratherium.
The massive elephant-sized creatures weighed up to 8,800 pounds and could grow up to 20 feet long from head to tail. Their size likely made them very slow, but they probably did not have to worry about attack from other animals.
They were believed to have been herbivores whose massive size allowed them to easily reach the leaves of tall trees. A megatherium could essentially use its two hind legs and tail as a “tripod” to support the rest of its body, while ripping the branches off trees with large, sharp claws. Megatherium feet each had five claws which could grow up to a foot long and some theories say they may have even used them to stab other animals!
Most of what we know today comes from the work of paleontologist Georges Cuvier after the first Megatherium fossil was discovered in 1788.
The megatherium is just one of many species of now extinct ground sloths, who are distinct from the smaller, modern tree sloths we know today.
Watch the video below to learn more:
One of our fans sent us the photo below, saying that “one of these was found and dug during a road construction project here in Wilmington, NC and now resides in our museum.” Cool!