STL Science Center

STL Science Center

03 January 2017

Slowly Writing Slow Creatures

Megatherium was one of the most well-known descriptions published by Georges Cuvier at the end of the 18th century. A number of papers were published and read in the following 60 years by Richard Owen that described the animal in even more detail and were possibly even more important to future studies of the animal than the initial descriptions. Owen released these partial descriptions as they were read to the Royal Society in London during the 1850's, though their official dates for publication often preceded the readings by a few months. Owen produced this description both as a five part series of lectures and later as a memoir containing eleven parts.

Owen and Cuvier are not the only scientists that have shown interest in Megatherium. More recent research has been conducted on the giant sloths as well, including some biomechanical studies that reveal details about the capabilities of the giant sloth to bite and how the shape of its skull influences the forces it can generate and dissipate. There is, as we expect with mammals, a body of work discussing the teeth of ground sloths in addition to the biomechanical work mentioned above. Teeth and bite force obviously can be related and mammalian teeth are regularly discovered, so this is not an unusual study by any means.

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