Megatherium ("Great Beast") was a genus of elephant-sized ground sloths endemic to Central America and South America that lived from the Pliocene through Pleistocene existing approximately 5.3 million years.
The rhinoceros-sized Promegatherium is suggested to be the ancestor of Megatherium.
Megatherium was one of the largest mammals known, weighing up to eight tons, about as much as an African bull elephant. Although it was primarily a quadruped, its footprints show that it was capable of assuming a bipedal stance. When it stood on its hind legs it was about twenty feet (6 m) tall, twice the height of an elephant. This sloth, like a modern anteater, walked on the sides of its feet because its claws prevented it from putting them flat on the ground. Megatherium species were members of the abundant Pleistocene megafauna, large mammals that lived during the Pleistocene epoch.
Megatherium had a robust skeleton with a large pelvic girdle and a broad muscular tail. Its large size enabled it to feed at heights unreachable by other contemporary herbivores. Rising on its powerful hind legs and using its tail to form a tripod, Megatherium could support its massive body weight while using the curved claws on its long forelegs to pull down branches with the choicest leaves. Its jaw is believed to have housed a long tongue, which it would then use to pull leaves into its mouth, similar to the modern tree sloth.
Some recent morpho-functional analysis indicates that M. americanum was adapted for strong vertical biting. The teeth are hypsodont and bilophodont, and the sagittal section of each loph is triangular with a sharp edge. This suggests the teeth were used for cutting, rather than grinding, and that hard fibrous food was not the primary dietary component.
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