The Megatherium was a genus of prehistoric mammals that inhabited our planet during the Cenozoic, specifically in the Quaternary period (specifically from the Pliocene to the Holocene). It has been classified within the group of placental mammals.

This genus would have looked somewhat similar to a bear of today. It had large claws that it would have used to dig in the ground.

The dimensions of the Megatherium are large. It was 20 feet long from its head to its tail. In terms of weight, it would have been about 3 tons in shape. You could compare its size to an elephant.

You want to know more about the Megatherium? Read on and find out all about this prehistoric mammal!


Megatherium Taxonomy

  • This specimen belongs to the Kingdom of Animalia
  • The Phylum of this animal is Chordata
  • The class of this specimen is Mammalia
  • This specimen’s superorder is Xenarthra
  • The order of this creature is Pilosa
  • The suborder of this specimen is Folivora
  • This individual’s family is Megatheriidae

Discovery of the Megatherium

When the fossil remains of this animal were found, scientists were surprised to discover the ancestor of many mammals. Let us also remember that this event took place in 1788 and the person who found these remains was Fray Manuel Torres.

The precise place where these groups of fossil remains were found was a small city known as Luján, precisely in an area near one of its rivers, which is located within the capital Buenos Aires, within the South American country of Argentina.

After that event this material was prepared to be moved to a European museum located in Madrid, the famous National Museum of Natural Sciences, all this was carried out during one year, so precisely one year later it was already inside this museum, and it is for that reason that today we can find this group of vestiges inside the same Spanish museum.

When the remains were already inside this museum, a great scientist, Juan Bautista Bru de Ramón, would be in charge of remodeling or restructuring the animal, trying to reconstruct it in some way, for this he used some drawings that he created taking into account the shape of the bone elements and how they should fit.

These drawings, years later, were going to be very useful for the world of Paleontology, because these same drawings were used as a reference to know the size of each bone element and the proportions of these bones in relation to the bones of other specimens.

So much so that another scientist specializing in comparative anatomy, Georges Cuvier, was commissioned to produce a scientific article more than five years later, in the middle of 1796, in fact this was the first official scientific work that spoke about the animal that is the protagonist today.

However, what this article was really about was that it had been a kind of transcription of everything that had ended up happening and being discussed within a famous scientific conference that took place in France.

On the other hand, after the unexpected success and great repercussion that his article had, this same scientist was in charge of a new official publication in 1804, due to the fact that he was totally immersed in the study and analysis of this huge mammal.

We also know that this same scientific publication would appear again in a book that he would later write and would be very successful in this world of science, and it was in these same writings that the animal receives the name by which we now know it, in addition to the fact that he also assigned the name to one of the species, that of Megatherium americanum.

It was this same researcher who managed to determine one of the most important qualities of this animal, which was really a sloth, and it was also the one who thought in a wrong way that this mammal used its enormous claws in the same way as the sloth bears of our days.

But in reality this did not happen exactly, because this prehistoric mammal really used these elements to make holes in the ground and to be able to go inside it, that is why Cuvier considered this animal as a real underground. This lifestyle really fits with all the other physical characteristics of the mammal, and all the data that has been collected would make a lot of sense, but due to its size and physiology it is thought that it would live in caves and not in tunnels dug by itself (imagine if not the size of the burrows it would have made and that have not been found).

Let’s remember that this animal was discovered a few years before the discovery of the prehistoric reptiles, better known as dinosaurs, so their popularity and amazement that caused was total, however, then had to share the interest of mankind of science with the copies that we already mentioned, the dinosaurs.

In addition to this, they continued to find various vestiges in other areas of the South American continent, in more than 6 countries respectively, so their dominance of the territory was quite overwhelming, both in Peru and Chile, they managed to find well-preserved vestiges that would later be very useful for their study.

Description of the Megatherium

It turns out that this animal is truly a mammal, whose special characteristic was that it was placental. It was also placed within the order known as Pilosa, and in the world of show business it has been known generically under the common name of “megatherium”.

What calls the attention of this creature is the great size they possess but if we add to that the slowness with which they moved this animal becomes one of the most interesting specimens to analyze.

It is also known that this great mammal turns out to be a direct relative of the sloth bears that we know in our days, which lived in the southern area of the American continent, and it is also known that these current sloth bears have existed in our world more than 8 thousand years ago.

As for their considerable size, we can affirm that no other mammal could surpass them in this respect, except for some that were placed within the group of the proboscis and others that are known as perissodactyls, among which we can mention the gigantic Paraceratherium.