STL Science Center

STL Science Center

04 January 2017

The Bass on the Plain

Case in point al a ©Dmitry Bogdanov
It is not at all difficult to imagine Megatherium as an immense animal with a sizable body and a stout hindquarters; we see it sitting on its haunches often enough in the illustrations and animations that are produced featuring the animal. Megatherium was very likely covered in a thick shaggy fur coat, like its modern day relatives, and possessed rather interestingly curved forefeet and hindfeet sporting enormous claws. These claws forced the forefeet into their unique configuration because it was impossible for the sloth to bear weight on the claws without breaking them and injuring its digits, hands, and wrists. The tails of these sloths were much more substantial than their modern relatives, though they appear to be more readily able to bear the weight of the animal when on two legs and reaching for higher branches in the trees from which it is feeding.

Most of the illustrations of these animals are dark brown or black in color; however, they are often shown reaching up into solitary trees on the plains or at the edge of a forest with their backs to the plains. Undoubtedly a terrible plan as those plains were often filled with saber tooth cats, wolves, and bears. Living in groups, rather than in solitude, may have made this coloration issue less dangerous for the sloths as well. At the edge of a forest this coloration makes sense as anything looking at a giant brown animal might lose it in the dark background of a heavy forest. At a solitary tree in a savannah, however, this becomes a different story. Coloration can be justified by the history of the genus; which may have had members on South American plains as well. Many of the species of Megatherium were indigenous to South America and, covered in forest or rain forest, South America had many trees, making darker coloration more realistic.

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