By Shanuka Kadupitiyage Ceylon Today Features
Everyone loves Ice Age’s most adorable goofball, Sid the Sloth. Doing a little research, I found out that there were actual sloths during the last Ice Age. But what I learnt was that Sid the Sloth wouldn’t have been very adorable if you and I were to visit him 10,000 years ago.
Yes, Sid would have been big. As big as an elephant today, weighing as much as one also. It would have also been able to stand on its rear legs and when it did, could have been able to peek over the roof of a single storey house. The Giant Sloth is a great name, but scientists wanted something fancier to call it, and so they called all of the giant sloths Megatherium. The biggest one of them all was called Megatherium americanum and were as big as mammoths. Not all of them were that big though. The smallest types of giant sloth were about as big as a really big bear, but that is still big considering that a sloth in the modern day can easily be cuddled in your arms.
Were they fast?
You might already know that sloths today move really slowly, but did they 10,000 years ago? Truth be told, not everyone is so sure. But what scientists do know is that they must have spent a lot of their time sleeping to help with their digestion. Because of their size, not many predators would have tried to attack these giants, who are another example of the giant mammals that used to live long time ago. So they really might not have had any reason to do be fast.
By looking at the bones and what else has been found from what we are pretty sure are of Megatherium, scientists know that this was another plant-eating giant of their time. Thanks to the massive tail, they would have been able to lean against it and stand on two legs to reach for the treetop for some tasty, tender leaves. Giant sloths may have also been able to walk on two legs, but most likely would have walked on all four of their legs for the most part.
A lot of the fossils from the Ice Age that we know of come from the American and South American continents, and the Giant Sloth is the same. Most of its fossils were found in South America, with the first of its fossils found in Argentina. It took a while before scientists realised that the first of these fossils were what was left of a Giant Sloth, but the discovery of them was really exciting for palaeontologists around the world. But there are also signs of them heading northward, where they seem to have flourished as well.
Evolution and the end
Ground sloths belong to a group of animals that include modern day tree sloths, anteaters and armadillos. Sadly though, Giant sloths didn’t survive the Ice Age, even though they are related to modern-day sloths. Most scientists think that these Giant Sloths didn’t survive because of –you guessed it– humans. There is evidence of ancient humans hunting these creatures. With global warming and being hunted, their numbers must have shrunk to the point that none remained and so, another giant species from the Ice Age went extinct.