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Megalonychoidea

Megalonychoidea (ground sloths; suborder Xenarthra, infra-order Pilosa) An extinct superfamily of ground-dwelling edentates which are known first from the Oligocene but which thrived during the Pleistocene in N., Central, and S. America, and which may be broadly ancestral to modern tree sloths. Early forms attained a length of little more than a metre; but later much larger forms appeared, including Megatherium, which was more than 6 m long, and more massive than an elephant. Ground sloths had claws on all five digits on each limb, the claws in some species being so large as to require the animal to walk with its feet turned on their sides, as do modern New World ant-eaters. The teeth were reduced and simple and some may have possessed horny plates used in cropping vegetation. Later ground sloths were contemporaries of early humans: a skeleton of Nothrotherium (an animal about the size of a tapir) has been found that shows signs of having been killed by humans. In the W. Indies ground sloths evolved into dwarf forms, some no larger than a cat.

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megatherium

megatherium (mĕgəthēr´ēəm) [Gr.,=large beast], extinct ground sloth, of the genus Megatherium, that was widely distributed in North and South America in the Pleistocene epoch. Fossil evidence shows that these mammals became extinct comparatively recently, about the time that the first explorers reached the New World. A huge beast, the megatherium attained a length of 18 ft (5.5 m) and probably weighed several tons. The hind legs and tail were massive, the forelegs slender and supple; the animal probably supported itself much of the time in a semierect position on its hind legs and tail and used its forelegs to pull from trees the foliage on which it fed. The megatherium is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Edentata, family Megatheriidae.

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