As an elephant sized ground sloth, Megatherium Americanum was one of the most impressive beasts in history.Megatherium was from the Piloscene and Holocene Epoch, about 2.8 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago. They ranged all over South America and to some extent they also lived in Meso and North America. There were several species of Megatherium but the most well known was Megatherium Americanium, the largest species in the genus.
Megatherium weighed in at about 6 tons and stood around 20 feet tall. The only animals that would have been larger in it’s time were the largest of Mammoth species. It’s name literally means “giant beast”.
Megatherium was a ground sloth, meaning it spent no time in the trees, instead it walked around on all four legs, balancing on the sides of it’s paws much like an anteater (anteaters, sloths and armadillos are all part of the same superorder of xenarthrans). It is speculated that Megatherium would use it’s tail and hind legs to balance like a tripod when reaching the branches of tall trees.
Megatherium was certainly had a heavily plant based diet, but some people argue that it was more likely that Megatherium had a more omnivorous diet based on the discovery of Megatherium fossils near the fossilized corpses of rather large beasts which don’t appear to be killed by Smilodon or Terror Birds.
When Megatherium was first discovered it was guessed that it would use it’s massive claws for burrowing and that it lived a subterranean lifestyle, but that was later changed as it became apparent that such a large creature would not be able to support itself on a diet of roots and underground food stuffs.
It is unknown what exactly caused the death of the Megatherium, but it is known that all of America’s megafauna, save for the buffalo, died out around the same time 10,000 years ago. This mass extinction is believed to be at least in part due to the animals being unable to adapt as the weather warmed up and the ice age ended. It is also a fair guess that the migration of humans into the Americas sped up the process of killing the megafauna. Regardless, today Megatherium and all the megagauna are an exciting part of American history
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