What was Megatherium?
The final two specimens of Darwin's fossil mammals to have been scanned belonged to an extinct giant ground sloth.
In the latest update to the
The Megatherium fossils are two halves of the same skull, one held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England Museum and the other at Down House (looked after by English Heritage). The fossils confirmed that, despite weighing up to four tonnes, the extinct animals were indeed related to modern-day sloths.
But what actually was Megatherium?
Megatherium americanum is the scientific name for an extinct species of giant ground sloth. The name means 'great beast from America'.
Discovered in 1787 by Manuel Torres in Argentina, the first M. americanum fossils were shipped to the Museo Nacional de Ciencias in Madrid, where the original skeleton is still on display.
Present day sloths are relatively small mammals. They are less than a
Sloths are notable for their low energy levels and slow, deliberate movements (hence their name). They are part of a larger group known as the Xenarthra, which includes their distant relatives the armadillos and anteaters.
In contrast to the
Megatherium americanum is known from Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. Fossils of the animals have been found in deposits dating from the Middle Pleistocene (around 400,000 years ago) to the beginning of the Holocene (around 8,000 years ago).
We know that they overlapped with humans in time as Megatherium fossils have been found with cut marks on them, suggesting that these giant sloths were on the menu thousands of years ago.
Despite its magnificent claws, M.
It was able to stand and walk on its hind legs, making it the largest bipedal mammal of all time.
Footprints attributed to M.
These specimens collected by Darwin are historically and scientifically important, but also very fragile meaning that physical access to these specimens has had to be restricted to protect the specimens from further damage.
The Megatherium fossil scans will join those of the Toxodon specimens - scanned and released earlier this year - in the Darwin Fossil Mammals Dataset on the Museum’s portal. They will also be released on 3D model platform Sketchfab.
- Follow us on @NHM_Digitse and @NHMFossilMammal to hear more about the Museum's digitisation of its 80 million specimens.
- Data from the Megatherium scans are on the Museum's data portal and Sketchfab.
- Find out more about Digitising Darwin's Fossil Mammals.
- Tell us how you would like to use these models by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.