Megatherium americanum was first named scientifically in 1796 by the eminent French anatomist and ‘father of palaeontology’, Georges Cuvier. He recognized it was an extinct giant sloth, which was significant at the time because the concept of prehistory was only just being understood. He named it Megatherium, which means ‘large beast’.
The oldest examples of the genus Megatherium are 5.4 million years old, but the massive species Megatherium americanum evolved much later, in the Pleistocene, around 1.8 million years ago. Humans lived alongside the giant sloth and human hunters may have contributed to its extinction, just ten thousand years ago.
Megatherium has an excellent fossil record consisting of many skeletons, so its biology is known in great detail. Samples of giant sloth hair show that it was yellow-brown. The hair also hosted a mat of green algae on the living giant sloth, as happens in modern tree sloths. Vast quantities of giant sloth dung have even been found in caves. This dung contains pollen and plant fragments that show what Megatherium ate. Its diet changed with the climate: during dry seasons it fed on desert plants, whereas during cool wet seasons it ate leaves from trees.
Megatherium, the so-called ‘giant sloth’, was a massive ground-dwelling relative of modern sloths. This particular species, Megatherium americanum, was the largest of its kind. It browsed for plants in South America during the Pleistocene and became extinct just ten thousand years ago.
- Scientific Name: Megatherium americanum
- Characteristics: Megatherium americanum was a large plant-eating mammal with stubby legs and relatively long arms. It was covered with hair and had a blunt skull with strong grinding teeth. It had a broad pelvis and a short tail, and could balance in a squat tripod pose. The large claws on its hands helped it to pull down branches to feed on leaves, and it may have also had a long tongue. It reached 20 feet long – the size of an elephant.
- Size and Colour: This figure is 4.5 inches high and 3.5 inches long. It has yellow-brown fur to reflect the most recent scientific evidence.
- The Giant Sloth is part of the Wild Safari® Prehistoric World collection
- All of our products are Non-toxic and BPA free
Age: 3+ years
Size in cm: 9 L x 11.5 H