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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 native giant ground sloths and giant terror birds were joined by the incoming smilodon, the largest of all the sabre-toothed cats.
Below were forests of hemlocks laden with Ice-Age snow and shallow rivers hissing over polished stones; here, too, the dull thud of giant ground sloths cracking limbs from birch trees.
Bones of saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths and other animals, many of which had died out in the area by 13,000 years ago, lay nearby.
Reading this award-winning text (finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature), you will be transported from the central US into the past, when giant ground sloths and woodland musk oxen grazed in the forest, then to the present, where you will view the forest from the viewpoint of a bee or a caterpillar or a maple tree or even a shrew (at which point Haskell reminds us that the earliest mammals on Earth were shrew-like, drawing connections to our own everyday existence in a jest).
Friday in Room 110, Knight Law Center, University of Oregon, 1515 Agate St.; Greg McDonald, National Park Service's Senior Curator of Natural History, will offer an intimate look at extinct giant ground sloths, including their ecology, evolution and how to tell the "boys" from the "girls," from fossils discovered by Darwin in South America to remains later unearthed in Oregon; Mc Donald will discuss recent research on giant sloths and the light it sheds on their natural history; free; 541-346-3024.
In North America, the big animals all vanished, including mastodons, camels, giant ground sloths and saber-toothed cats.
"Last Extinction: What Killed The Mammoths?" is a superbly produced, informed and informative NOVA television episode that explores an iconoclastic theory behind the sudden demise of mammoths, giant ground sloths, saber-tooth cats, and American lions.
A new study exploring fossilized footprints from the last Ice Age suggests our ancestors stalked and followed giant ground sloths, massive razor-clawed animals, in a bid to hunt them down.
The more than 26 large mammals found at the site included saber-toothed cats and giant ground sloths, which were largely extinct in North America 13,000 years ago.
Washington, May 22 ( ANI ): Emerging evidence continues to point to a major cosmic impact 12,800 years ago as the primary cause for the tragic loss of nearly all of the remarkable large animals that had survived the stresses of many ice age periods, including mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, American camel and horse, and saber- toothed cats.
Many of the finds recovered from excavations beneath Hollywood Boulevard--such as isolated bones and teeth of mastodons, giant ground sloths, bison, and camels--mirror evidence of species found in the nearby La Brea tar pits, notes Lander.