By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
If you remember any of the Ice Age movies, you would probably recognise these creatures that we are talking about. Most of the time, they are side-characters that are neighbours to our dysfunctional family of creatures, but they have a lot of interesting stories to tell as well. We’re talking about the ancient cousins of the armadillos, the Glyptodon (Glip-Toh-Don). Now, you might think that these were small creatures, but looks can be deceiving.
One of these armoured creatures were as big as a car, and weighed pretty much the same at over 800 kilograms. Glyptodon is a family of armoured mammals that lived in the last Ice Age. They had short limbs and a massive armoured covering to protect themselves.
Not a tortoise, or a dinosaur
If you mistook these creatures to be relatives to the tortoise, I wouldn’t blame you. It was through DNA testing that scientists were able to finally realise that this was a relative to the armadillo. Until then, no one was completely sure.
Charles Darwin is said to have been the first person to mention about the first fossils of this family of creatures, but fossils of these creatures have been found and discussed about for some time longer than that. The only problem was that the scientists at the time had no idea what it was. It’s not easy to find fully intact fossils, and often you would have stray bones or teeth found, with no idea from which animal it came from.
At first, scientists that found Glyptodon bones thought it was from the giant sloths that existed at that time period (by the way, those were as big as elephants today). When they finally did agree that there was a creature such as this, the next challenge was to come up with a proper name for it. Sadly, people had a hard time getting on the same page with this as well, with a lot of different names being used before the current name Glyptodon was decided on.
The Glyptodon life
These creatures have evolved to brave a variety of environmental conditions. Some lived in warm and humid forests, open grasslands and some even in colder areas. All of them were most commonly found in the continent which we now call South America. Some did reach the southern part of what is now the USA but not a lot. These were herbivorous creatures (herb-ee-vo-rus) which means they were plant eaters and would usually have grazed near rivers and lakes. It’s most likely that they would have eaten grass for their main diet.
But they had a feisty side to them as well. Their tails were massive and armoured which they used as a weapon to protect themselves, and maybe even to fight each other when looking for a partner. Also, these creatures had very few predators, simply because of how protected they were thanks to their armour. But that didn’t stop humans from trying to hunt them.
Living with humans
Yes, turns out that we use to share this planet with the Glyptodon. There is reason to believe that early humans did try to hunt them, and some of them were successful. In fact, some palaeontologists believe that humans might have sometimes used their armour as a house to protect themselves from the rain and snow (yes, they were really big).
Of course, that brings up the question, ‘how did they go extinct?’ The theory right now is that with global warming at the end of the ice age, and the hunting of humans, the Glyptodon population soon declined to a point where extinction did happen. But we know very little about what exactly happened. But what we do know is that the history of the Earth is full of a lot of interesting creatures, and so do a lot of them today. It’s up to us to be able to take care of them, because we are the main reason why the creatures that exist today, might disappear tomorrow.