‘What’s a megatherium?’ That’s what I asked Saturday’s Nature Live audience. They looked as blank as I would have done, had I not already met palaeontology curator Andy Currant.
Andy looks after all the large mammal fossils within the palaeo department, and has a hoard of wonderful stories to tell about ancient giant animals that once roamed the land….Megatherium was a giant ground sloth, found in north and south America.
They’re a distant relative of today’s living tree sloths, and didn’t look that dissimilar. They went extinct about 10,000 – 12,000 years ago, but have left certain ‘evidence’ behind of their existence. As you would expect, there are bones – it’s estimated that a giant ground sloth could weigh about 2.5 tonnes, so their skeletons are massive! However, they also left behind skin and poo, of which we have some great examples! During Saturday’s event, Andy had a large piece of skin and a ball of dung, both about 13,000 years old. We let the audience have a feel and a closer look afterwards, and I was amazed at how fresh they still appear! The dung ball no longer really smells, but trust me, it still looks pretty fresh! If you missed the event but would like to see a Megatherium for yourself, there’s an impressive example at the end of the Marine Reptiles Gallery – an exhibit not to be missed on your next visit!