The giant sloths of Pleistocene? As agile as rhinos
They could weigh more than three tons but showed surprising agility, quite similar to that of today’s hippopotami and rhinoceroses.
A study carried out by the Department of Earth Sciences at Sapienza University of Rome, in collaboration with a team of researchers at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina (CONICET), sheds light on the characteristics of the giant sloths that lived in South America tens of thousands of years ago, during the Pleistocene.
The study was published in the journals The Science of Nature and Journal of Mammalian Evolution. The international team of palaeontologists conducted a series of tomographic analyses, coordinated by Alberto Boscaini of CONICET, on the cranium of a specimen of one of these Pleistocene giants, Glossotherium robustum.
The analyses allowed the Sapienza researchers to reconstruct a 3D model of the animal’s brain, which revealed the unusually large dimensions of some nerves related to movement.
“The Pleistocene sloths”, explained Dawid Adam Iurino, Sapienza University of Rome, “had semi-prehensile lips that helped them select and grab vegetation, because the extremely large nails on their front paws prevented them from using them to collect foods. They were probably better for digging”. This latter ability is also demonstrated by the recent discovery of huge tunnels dug by these animals in Brazil.