Giant Ground Sloth Facts

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The giant ground sloth or Megatherium is an extinct ground sloth that was endemic to South America during the ice age. They lived from the early Pliocene till the end of the Pleistocene (the great ice age). The term Megatherium contains two Greek elements, méga meaning 'great,' and theríon meaning 'beast.' There are also called megathere. The Megatherium americanum is the best-known elephant size type species of this genus. The Megatherium became an extinct animal around 12,000 years ago. It happened during the extinction event called Quaternary. It was also observed that one of the reasons for the extinction of this genus was hunting. One of the prototypical prehistoric sloths of the genus called Megalonyx (giant claws) was scientifically named Megalonyx jeffersonii after the then Vice President of America, Thomas Jefferson, who examined this genus in 1797. It was in the year 1788 that one of the first fossils specimens of Megatherium was found. Manuel Torres discovered this genus in Argentinian rubber called Luján. There are several families with more than 80 genera of the extinct ground sloth.

If you like these interesting facts about the giant ground sloth, then you must read three-toed sloth and two-toed sloth facts too.

Giant Ground Sloth

Fact File

What do they prey on?

Plants, vegetation, and leaves

What do they eat?


Average litter size?


How much do they weigh?

8800 lb (3991.6 kg)

How long are they?

240 in (6 m)

How tall are they?

120 in (304.8 cm)

What do they look like?

Dark brown and dark orange

Skin Type

Collagenous dermis

What are their main threats?

Humans, contamination, and fragmentation

What is their conservation status?


Where you'll find them

Woodlands, grasslands, temperate, arid, or semiarid open habitat


North America and South America





Scientific Name






Giant Ground Sloth Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Giant Ground Sloth?

The giant ground sloths of the superorder Xenarthra and order Pilosa are an extinct group of sloths. The fossils of these species were recovered from as many as 150 sites in North America. The general disposition and lifestyles of each species varied. These giant sloths were peaceful and would only attack in self-defense. The diet varied as per the climate and these giant sloths were slow-moving, as per research on their fossils.

What class of animal does a Giant Ground Sloth belong to?

The giant ground sloths (Megatherium americanum) were of the mammals class of animals.

How many Giant Ground Sloths are there in the world?

These ground sloths became extinct around 12,000 years ago.

Where does a Giant Ground Sloth live?

They (Megatherium americanum) were the occupants of a wide range of South American lightly wooded regions. These giant sloths were native to Pampas. During the Great American interchange, some closely related species of genus Eremotherium occupied the temperate zones of North America. The Megalonyx jeffersonii (ground sloths) species had occupied central and north America. The giant ground sloth skeleton has been found in the far north of Alaska, in Canada, and in New Mexico. The very first discoveries made of Megalonyx jeffersonii fossils were in modern-day West Virginia. The Organ cave in the Greenbrier County, West Virginia had certain bones of M. jeffersonii. They were the members of the Pleistocene megafauna.

What is a Giant Ground Sloth's habitat?

These ground sloths were found in woodlands, grasslands, temperate, arid, or semiarid open habitats. They preferred staying in an open region. They also preferred forest and vegetation with water bodies around.

Who do Giant Ground Sloths live with?

These ground sloths lived in groups.

How long does a Giant Ground Sloth live?

The average lifespan of these ground sloths is unknown.

How do they reproduce?

The reproduction type of these giant sloths was viviparous. The data on their reproductive cycles are not available. It is impossible to conclude on this topic due to their extinction. It was also found that the adults cared for the young ones.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of these animals is Extinct. They became extinct 12,000 years ago, which is known as the last ice age.

Giant Ground Sloth Fun Facts

What do Giant Ground Sloths look like?

These animals had a strong skeleton, big pelvic girdle with a wide muscular tail. They used their tail as a tripod while standing on their hind legs to reach tall trees. While the hind legs were powerful, the forelegs had curved claws to support body weight.  They walked on the sides of their feet as they could not place their feet face down due to big claws. It was believed that they waddled on their front knuckles and hind legs. They were traditionally quadruped but they could also walk on two feet. They were hairless like the modern-day elephants. They had cone-shaped mouths with prehensile lips. The megatherium species chewed vertically. These animals had deeper jaws compared to other sloths. Bones called stylohyal and epihyal, which support the tongue were merged. They had a narrow muzzle. The teeth were equally spaced at the back of their mouth. The M. americanum had extremely hypsodont teeth that supported their fibrous diet. The teeth form a V-shaped interlock when viewed from the side.

A specimen M. americanum was the first prehistoric skeleton of an animal mounted in the National Museum of Natural Sciences.

How do they communicate?

The sloths of the modern-day make sound to communicate. However, data about the communication techniques of these extinct mammals are not available.

How big is a Giant Ground Sloth?

The retrieved fossil of giant ground sloth size was 240 in (6 m) length and 120 in ( 304.8 cm) height. These were the largest species of ground sloths. Among the giant ground sloth size facts is that their size was similar to that of an elephant. The giant ground sloth compared to human size would be much larger.

How fast can a Giant Ground Sloth move?

The giant ground sloths are slow-moving creatures. The exact data on speed is not available.

How much does a Giant Ground Sloth weigh?

The weight of these species was 8800 lb (3991.6 kg).

What are their male and female names of the species?

There was no specific name for females or males given to these animals.

What would you call a baby Giant Ground Sloth?

There was no specific name given to the baby giant ground sloths.

What do they eat?

It is believed that these animals were selective eaters of plant-based food. Giant ground sloth diet facts from research show that they ate a variety of food like hard grasses, the foliage of trees, yucca, and shrubs.

Are they dangerous?

No. These animals are believed to have attacked only if triggered. Sloths usually do not chase or hunt and it is thought that these extinct animals were not different.

Would they make a good pet?

No. These creatures would not make a good pet. They are very large in large and have been extinct for thousands of years!

Did you know...

It was first believed that these sloths used their large claws to climb trees, similar to tree sloths. It was later discovered that they used their claws to dig holes.

It is believed that to dig plants, they would first sit on haunches and would tug on the plants with their feet.

These ground sloths were relatives of the living tree sloths, armadillos, and anteaters.

When Thomas Jefferson named one of the giant ground sloths Megalonyx, he was not aware of the fact that animals could go extinct. He also asked the famous Lewis and Clark to keep an eye out for giant ground sloth sightings. There are currently four species of Megalonyx.

Unlike Megatherium, Megalonyx was a medium-sized genus of giant ground sloths. Their hind legs were laid face down on the ground (plantigrade).

These were a few of the big species that were able to swallow avocado whole. So, they are given the credit for dispersing these seeds away from the parent tree.

How did the Giant Ground Sloth become extinct?

Research shows various reasons for their extinction. One of the reasons is believed to be hunting for food. It is also believed that they became extinct due to rapid climate change and they failed to adapt. Another theory believes that they contracted a slow-killing disease. Loss of habitat was also shown to be a reason. The evidence of some fossil remains of these species suggests that they died in their own feces.

How long ago did the Giant Ground Sloth live?

The giant ground sloths lived around 12,000 years ago. The last descendent of giant ground species disappeared around 4,200 years ago.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including the saber-toothed tiger, or woolly mammoth.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our sloth coloring pages.



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