Ancient tooth from an extinct four-metre sloth found in Belize reveals the creature’s last days

A giant sloth’s final moments have been revealed by a four inch (10 centimetre) fragment of its tooth. 

The thirsty animal’s 27,000 year old dentine was found submerged in a watery sinkhole, where it is believed to have taken its final drink.

Living on the then savannas around Cara Blanca, Belize, the giant went through a seven-month dry season and two brief wet seasons during the year before its death.

Scientists made the findings by running Carbon and Oxygen analysis on 20 sections cut from the tooth, to reveal the animals diet and what its climate was like.

This showed that during the late pleistocene period, when most water was locked in glaciers, the area was much drier than today. 

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A giant sloth’s final moments have been revealed by a four inch (10 centimetre) fragment of its tooth (pictured). Carbon and Oxygen isotope analysis was performed on the tooth by removing 20 sections from it. This revealed the sloth went through a seven-month dry season and two brief wet seasons a year before it died

A giant sloth’s final moments have been revealed by a four inch (10 centimetre) fragment of its tooth (pictured). Carbon and Oxygen isotope analysis was performed on the tooth by removing 20 sections from it. This revealed the sloth went through a seven-month dry season and two brief wet seasons a year before it died

A giant sloth’s final moments have been revealed by a four inch (10 centimetre) fragment of its tooth (pictured). Carbon and Oxygen isotope analysis was performed on the tooth by removing 20 sections from it. This revealed the sloth went through a seven-month dry season and two brief wet seasons a year before it died

The tooth, recovered by divers in Belize and dated to about 27,000 years ago, has revealed the area had a much more arid climate than today, with the sloth  (artist's impression) living on a savanna that may have had long dry seasons

The tooth, recovered by divers in Belize and dated to about 27,000 years ago, has revealed the area had a much more arid climate than today, with the sloth  (artist's impression) living on a savanna that may have had long dry seasons

The tooth, recovered by divers in Belize and dated to about 27,000 years ago, has revealed the area had a much more arid climate than today, with the sloth  (artist’s impression) living on a savanna that may have had long dry seasons

The Research was led by Jean Larmon, Professor Stanley Ambrose and Professor Lisa Lucero from the University of Illinois and published this month in the journal Science Advances.

The tooth was found lying in the pool by divers, along with an arm and leg bone, while they were searching for ancient Maya artefacts.

The animals herbivorous diet, which included grass and shrubs, suggested it was not a fussy eater and able to adapt to its surroundings.

Ms Larmon said: ‘We were able to see that this huge, social creature, was able to adapt readily to the dry climate, shifting its subsistence to relying upon what was more available and palatable.

‘That helps explain why sloths were so widespread and why they lasted so long. It’s likely because they were highly adaptable.’ 

The teeth also revealed that the animal lived on a savanna and ate a variety of plants including grasses and shrubs. It also lived in the late pleistocene, a time when much of the earth's water was locked in glaciers

The teeth also revealed that the animal lived on a savanna and ate a variety of plants including grasses and shrubs. It also lived in the late pleistocene, a time when much of the earth's water was locked in glaciers

The teeth also revealed that the animal lived on a savanna and ate a variety of plants including grasses and shrubs. It also lived in the late pleistocene, a time when much of the earth’s water was locked in glaciers

WHAT WAS THE GIANT SLOTH? 

The giant mammal roamed from Brazil to the Southern US until about 11,000 years ago.

The sloths grew over 10 foot in length and weighed up to 1,500 pounds.

The giants were bulky, with short necks, powerful chests, and massive jaws.

They had claws, which they could use for digging, grabbing, or defending themselves. 

Ground sloths originated in South America, before the continent was connected to North America by way of Panama.

A herbivore that fed on grasses, shrubs, and flowering plants, it used its stout snout and keen nose to sniff for food.

It lived in open grassland habitats and fed on a variety of plants including grass.

The sloth’s tooth also provides further evidence for what caused the extinction of giant sloths, which happened around 11,000 years ago.

Professor Lucero said the findings ‘add to the evidence that many factors, in addition to a changing climate, contributed to the extinction of megafauna in the Americas’.

‘One of those potential factors is the arrival of humans on the scene 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.’

This giant sloth species, Eremotherium laurillardi, ranged from Brazil to the Southern US for almost a million years, and its fossils are found across the region.

It went extinct along with sabre tooth cats and woolly mammoths shortly after humans arrived.

The stability of the climate around this time, and the fact it was eating plants that are still alive today, suggests humans were involved in its demise. 

The tooth was recovered from the Cara Blanca water pool in Belize, near the border with Guatemala, when divers were looking for Maya artefacts

The tooth was recovered from the Cara Blanca water pool in Belize, near the border with Guatemala, when divers were looking for Maya artefacts

The tooth was recovered from the Cara Blanca water pool in Belize, near the border with Guatemala, when divers were looking for Maya artefacts

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