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(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 ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Edentata, family Megatheriidae.



a genus of fossil mammals of the order Edentata; giant ground sloths. Remains, including complete skeletons, have been found in Pleistocene deposits of North and South America. Megatherium had a massive trunk measuring up to 6 m long and short legs. It fed on leaves and young shoots, which it obtained by standing upright and, resting on its powerful tail, bending the branches with the long curved claws of its forelimbs.

References in periodicals archive ?
The sinkhole, known in Mexico as a cenote, where the giant sloth was found is located in the state Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula in the southeastern part of the country.
Since then, humans have taken over responsibility from the giant sloths for the avocado's survival but how it managed to get through the first 10,000 or so years after the giant sloth's extinction remains a mystery.
She added that the extinction of the giant sloth was related to climate change as well as overhunting by human beings around 8000 years ago.
Participants will discover what life was like when mammoth, bison, camel and giant sloth roamed the Willamette Valley.
Photo: Two types of mammals that became extinct in North America about 11,000 years ago were the giant sloth and the armadillo-like glyptodonts.
A wooly mammoth growls and tosses his head in one exhibit hall; in another, a sad-eyed giant sloth tries in vain to fight off a saber-toothed cat clinging to his back, fangs bared.
In those days, mammoth, bison, camel and the giant sloth roamed the Willamette Valley.
Guests will be able to see what life was like for humans during the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago when mammoth, bison, camel, and giant sloth roamed the Willamette Valley.
Apart from human remains, they also found bones of giant sloths, ancient elephants and extinct bears from the Pleistocene period, Mexico's Culture Ministry said in a statement.
In a four hour drive from the Metropolis of Los Angeles I went back to a time when giant sloths and saber toothed tigers roamed the land, and their bones are still on display there as proof.
Over 40,000 years ago, the earth was ruled by megafauna: mammoths and mastodons, saber-toothed tigers and giant sloths.
Bisons, Columbia mammoths, giant sloths, mastodons and forest beavers the size of black bears," Full said.