This spectacular ancestral mammal belonged to the glyptodon family, as you will see this family is closely related to the current armadillos.
Doedicurus clavicaudatus and Doedicurus patagonicus are the only species of the genus Doedicurus that have been found.
The prehistoric animal that occupies the present article lived during the Cenozoic Era, which precedes the present one. Within the Cenozoic there are much more precise temporal subclassifications and Doedicurus specifically belongs to the Quaternary Period.
The most distinctive feature of these giant armadillos was their long tails ending in a rigid “handle” and a kind of mace.
Precisely from this notorious feature comes its name, Doedicurus, which would come to mean a tail in the shape of a mortar hand.
Are you interested in knowing more about this peculiar prehistoric animal? Then stay here and discover all the information about Doedicurus!
- The Doedicurus is classified in the kingdom of Animalia.
- This specimen belonged to the phylum Chordata.
- The class of the Doedicurus is Mammalia.
- We found it classified in the super-order Xenarthra.
- The order to which this animal belonged is Cingulata.
- Doedicurus is classified within the family Glyptodontidae.
- The genus we are referring to in this article is Doedicurus.
As we mentioned in the introduction within the genus Doedicurus there are two species discovered, D. clavicaudatus and D. patagonicus.
However, it is not discarded that there could have been more species of this prehistoric mammal, this information could be corroborated by the discovery of new fossil remains corresponding to the same genus but with enough differences to determine a new species.
For this reason, from this platform we will do everything possible to keep this information updated in the event of any change in the taxonomy of this animal.
Basic information about Doedicurus
The Doedicurus was a rather heavy animal in relation to the dimensions it presented, so we can conclude that its structures were really very robust.
It is very important to clarify that in spite of having it in this site dedicated to dinosaurs, it should not be confused with one of them since it is a prehistoric mammal and its existence was much shorter than that of the dinosaurs.
Let’s see below some basic data that will allow us to quickly approach the appearance that this animal presented.
- How long was it? – The length of this prehistoric mammal was more or less 4 meters.
- How tall was it? – The height of the Doedicurus was approximately 1.5 meters.
- What was its weight? – It was a fairly heavy mammal, weighing between 1910 and 2370 kilograms.
- When did it live? – This prehistoric animal inhabited the earth 2.5 million years ago and could have existed for centuries, at most until about twelve thousand years ago.
The subfamily: the glyptodontids
The glyptodon inhabited the Earth during the Pleistocene era, and more specifically, it is believed that it appeared approximately 2.5 million years ago. Its existence developed over our planet for a few centuries, being one of the heaviest mammals of its time.
It is estimated that initially it would have lived in the area of South America and finally it would have ended up in North America.
The subfamily of glyptodontids belongs to the Cingulata order. They were essentially armadillos that had a dorsal armor formed by osteoderms (overlapping plates of dermal bone, forming “shields”).
Nowadays there are still animals of this order, specifically those belonging to the family Dasypodidae, to which the armadillos of today belong.
These prehistoric mammals had their heads low to facilitate access to water and grass. Their body was covered with hair and they moved very slowly due to great weight.
Chewing food for them was relatively easy, as they had very hard teeth and were welded together to form a grinding surface.
Glyptodonts were organized in small groups in order to protect their young. Adult males were quite large and heavy, measuring 3 meters and weighing up to two tons. Although they were not carnivores, they were quite aggressive animals.
They did not hesitate twice to use their huge bodies to attack as a method of defence against predators.
To get a better idea of the size of a glyptodon, we could compare it to a car. Interestingly, the Volkswagen Beetle would represent the shape and size this prehistoric animal would have been.
At first glance they may seem to be all-round, indestructible animals, although in practice this was not the case. The enormous size and weight of the beetle did make it a robust animal, but it also made it difficult to move at speed.
The great slowness it possessed was a defect that predators took advantage of.
What is really curious and still unknown, are the hard interlocking muscles that he had in his nostrils. Some propose that he might have had a trunk like an elephant.
Even so, this fact has not been determined, since all animals that have a trunk also have a series of bones in their heads that were not found in the rest of the glyptodonts.
Another more solid theory about it is that these muscles served as an aid to chewing the grass or fibrous stems. These muscular structures would have helped their heavy lower jaws to hold up and force themselves through the tough vegetation.
Why were they called glyptodons?
The name of the animals, in most cases has its origin in some special physical characteristic of them, the same is clearly the case with all the dinosaurs that are known.
It is also common in prehistoric animals to give them a name based on the shape of their teeth, this is because the jaws are key pieces for the description of the animals.
Although the most distinctive thing about glyptodonts were the plates on their shells, they were also given a meaning based on their teeth. The word Glyptodon comes from the words glypos , which means sculpted, and odontos , which means tooth.
What would come to mean their entire name would be grooved tooth or engraved tooth. The origin of the name is something quite curious, since it comes from an artistic technique known as Glyptic.
This technique consists of carving precious stones, and making figures thanks to the great thickness achieved. We have as an example the medals and coins.
Description of glyptodonts
Now, let’s look at a detailed description of glyptodonts. Everyone has ever seen an armadillo, a small animal that has its entire body covered with bone plates. These tiny animals use these bone plates as a defence against a predator.
Can you imagine what a much larger armadillo would look like? It’s something that really existed and it was quite a long time ago. It lived on Earth in the range of 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It could be called a giant armadillo, although its name is glyptodon.
Glyptodons were very similar to armadillos, so they are in the same order of animals. It is not too wrong to refer to them as the giant armadillos and as the current armadillo, the most distinctive feature of these was the carapace.
This shell kept it armored and served as a protective layer against predators, was equipped with about a thousand bone plates about two and a half centimeters thick. We could compare its shell to that of a turtle, an animal that also defends itself thanks to its shell.
In any case, what differentiates the glyptodon from the turtle is that the latter could not hide its head inside its shell. However, they had another bone layer (like a hat) that protected the head of the animal.
The tail of this animal was not far behind in terms of protection. Its tails were surrounded by a series of bony rings that served as protection, but all this meant a great weight that they held thanks to their solid vertebrae.
The vertebrae were strongly cohesive with each other, their extremities short but thick, and their shoulders large and strong enough to carry all the heavy armor they had. This robustness allowed it to support all the weight it had, which reached 1500 kilos without problems.
The carapace was a good defensive method against bites from giant wolves and saber-toothed tigers. It was a great defence against their sharp claws and teeth.
It should also be mentioned that it had an enormous strength that could easily knock down the enemies. Although, as noted, the flaw in the glyptodon was its slowness.
Despite its great defensive skills, the glyptodon was not a passive prey. The enormous force it had supported with its robust, armored tail allowed it to strike out at approaching predators.
Its tail had quite sharp bones with which it could break ribs, legs, and even the skulls of its enemies.
Why did the glyptodonts become extinct?
This prehistoric mammal was so powerful and popular that it came to inhabit the earth until about ten thousand years ago, when humans began to inhabit it. It came to control the whole of South America and much of the North.
Due to the food chain, it is very likely that one of the causes of the extinction of this prehistoric mammal was the first human beings. They would have hunted the glyptodonts in order to feed or simply to use their great armour as a refuge.
Even so, their extinction was not entirely the fault of the first humans who hunted them in moderation, but the main cause of their extinction was due to the change of era.
The Pleistocene was coming to an end to give way to the Holocene, which meant a great climatic change with which many animals, such as the glyptodon, disappeared completely from the face of the earth.
Description of the Doedicurus
Now that we know the characteristics of the glyptodonts, we have come a little closer to the general appearance of the Doedicurus, since by belonging to the same group they share many of the characteristics of these.
However, the Doedicurus hold the title of being the largest species of glyptodonts that has ever existed.
The most distinctive feature between the other species of glyptodonts and the Doedicurus lies in the tail. The tail of the latter would have been very long and ended in a kind of rigid handle and a caudal mace.
In addition, they also had armor around their tail. With respect to the caudal mace, it is not entirely clear that this term is the most appropriate, as they could have only been protuberances.
The dimensions of the Doedicurus were really impressive. It was approximately 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) high and the total length was 13 feet (4 meters).
This gave it a pretty fierce appearance if we count the huge shell it had and the great strength given by its approximately 2 tons.
The shell it possessed was placed in layers, with some shields superimposed on others. In this aspect they are very similar to today’s armadillos.
It also had a kind of flexible bone sheath around its tail. Males would also have long beaks at the end of their tails. The weight of the carapace was equivalent to 20% of its total mass.
In addition, the blood vessels in its carapace indicate that it was covered with skin and that it was perhaps also a hairy animal.
The support of the carapace was especially in the area of the pelvis, while it was somewhat looser in the area of the shoulder.
In addition, the front part had a small area of fat, which would have served to store energy (like the humps of camels) and would have also served as a shock absorber against the tail blows of their rivals.
The life of Doedicurus on planet Earth
At dinosaurioss.com we talk mostly about everything related to dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are giant animals that inhabited the Earth several million years ago, however, as we mentioned initially, this is not the case with Doedicurus.
Doedicurus is not a dinosaur but a prehistoric mammal and unlike the dinosaurs it was not long ago that it was on earth.
Doedicurus appeared on earth about 2.5 million years ago but it was not until recently that they left the earth. The Doedicurus stopped inhabiting the earth only’ about 10 000 years ago, although it seems a lot to us, if we take into account the long geological age, it really is not that long.
The existence of this mammal was centred on the Pleistocene era, which is how the period from 2.588 million to around 11 700 years ago is called.
The extinction of these prehistoric mammals came about with the change of era. This is not really a coincidence and has a simple explanation.
The Pleistocene is the time when the last glaciations occurred.
They belonged to the Cenozoic Era and the first epoch within the Quaternary Period. During this period, large extensions of land were covered under a large ice layer, which is called glaciation, although it is also known as the ice age.
The Doedicurus were used to a rather cold climatic environment. This would explain that when an interglacial period began (in which we still find ourselves) it meant the end of the Pleistocene and with it the end of the Doedicurus adapted to the cold.
This is not limited to the Doedicurus, but also to the whole group of glyptodonts that could not adapt to the change in climate.
Coincidentally, this climate change coincided with the beginnings of the human species, which made it more difficult for animals to hunt.
The arrival of the first Homo sapiens to South America temporarily coincides with the extinction of the Doedicurus. Homo sapiens would have hunted Doedicurus specimens in order to feed and use their shells as shelter.
Did you know that? – There is a cartoon film set at this time called The Ice Age. It is an ideal film to watch with the little ones and to learn something about prehistory and extinct species without leaving aside the entertainment.
In the film you can see examples of glyptodonts, and other better known, the mammoths.
Doedicurus were the most common species of glyptodonts. Even so, the presence of this mammal was not in all the Earth but it was limited to certain zones where it predominated.
The area where many of these specimens could be seen was present-day South America.
South America is still a relatively large area and it is possible to specify a little more the population centers of these mammals that would have inhabited especially in the Ensenada Formation, Argentina. Remains of this animal have also been found in the area of Uruguay and Brazil.
The natural habitat of the Doedicurus was the forests and grasslands. This is quite understandable, considering that they were a kind of herbivorous animals.
The remains of this animal would have been found together with the remains of capybaras, which would indicate that perhaps they would have fed on wetland plants.
Everything indicates that this mammal was very aggressive among its own species. Taking into account that its angle of vision was quite limited, it could not have used its tail against fast predators.
The males’ shells are dented, suggesting that they were punching each other to gain supremacy.
The discovery of this prehistoric mammal
The credit for having discovered the first remains of Doedicurus goes to Sir Richard Owen (1804 – 1892). He was an English biologist and paleontologist, considered a very controversial figure. Even so, he was a great naturalist with an unquestionable talent for interpreting fossils.
This incredible palaeontologist is known for many achievements, among which the term Dinosauria was coined and invented. Establishing a new Superorder is something that few paleontologists can boast of. He has also contributed the description of several dinosaurs, such as the Iguanodon or the Megalosaurus.
One of the greatest privileges he gained is permission to research any newly dead animal at the London Zoo.
From there he was able to draw many conclusions about mammals and contribute to the descriptions of marsupials, monotremes and great apes. He managed to recognize and name two groups of ungulates, Perissodactyla and Artiodactyla.
In 1848 he described some fossil remains. Most of his descriptions this year were about extinct mammals. Of course, one of them was Doedicurus.
He gave the name to this genus and did not stop there, he also recognized the giant armadillos, the glyptodonts in the year 1839.
We hope that this complete information about Doedicurus has been useful to you, although if you consider that some details are missing, we are happy to receive your suggestions. Any contribution, comment, question or criticism is totally welcome.