Humans Chased Massive Sloths Thousands Of Years Ago

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

All you sloth fans out there listen up; it has been discovered that there was a massive sloth roaming around with humans chasing it. That’s right, thousands of years ago we were chasing down massive sloths (check out the picture below).

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The sloth print in the picture is about 20 inches long, and the human track fits perfectly inside it. What that means is that the person, whoever they were, tracked the sloth down and probably kept up with it.

A human footprint inside a Giant Sloth’s track. Image source: Matthew Bennett / Bournemouth University

These tracks were found by geologist Matthew Bennett while he was in New Mexico. He found the sloth prints, with human footprints inside of the sloth print, as if the person was following the sloth. At the end of the sloth prints, Bennett found approaching human footprints and signs of claw marks on the ground. That signified to Bennett that one human was chasing the massive sloth while another closed in and began to fight it. The sloth then reared back on its hind legs and began swiping at the humans, leaving the tracks on claw marks. While all of this was going on Mr. Bennett found yet another set of tracks coming up from the opposite side. These tracks indicated the person was walking on their toes, meaning they were creeping up behind the sloth to end the hunt. Bennett explained, “the strategy was all about stalking to distract and irritate the animal, and get it to turn its back on someone approaching from the blind side.”.

Now, obviously, we have absolutely no idea if that was what actually occurred thousands of years ago. It is totally possible that the tracks were from kids goofing off, or people may be trying to understand how the sloth moved, or maybe they were even studying the tracks themselves to learn a little more about the giant sloth. Regardless of what could have gone on there, it is truly an incredible find.

Another fascinating part of this discovery is that these tracks were found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico. We know that the Ice Age affected this area greatly and that the lake that was once there dried up after the last Ice Age. After it dried up it created a massive salt flat that has held onto prehistoric tracks incredibly well. The footprints found there range from giant sloths up to mammoths and humans. The White Sand National Park holds the largest concentration of footprints in North America, although some tracks are hard to find so there are still more tracks to find there. These are the first giant sloth footprints found at White Sands National Park, which means it is possible that more will be found there soon.

All About The Giant Sloth

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Classification
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
SubclassTheria
OrderPilosa
SuborderFolivora
Most Recently Found1500 BC

Giant sloths belonged to the ground sloth group. Ground sloths are a large, and diverse, group of ancient sloths who roamed the Earth until 1500 B.C., although most lived from 2819 B.C. until 2660 B.C. These sloths were found primarily in South America and then slowly made their way across islands between the Americas, and then spread up to North America. This movement from South America up to North America was actually done by quite a few animals, and it is called the Great American Interchange.There are at least 80 different kinds of ground sloths that scientists have identified so far.

Giant sloths were about 7 to 8 feet tall when they stood on their back legs, and had a massive stride when they walked. Unlike the adorable sloths we have today, they were considerably quicker in their life and could put up a good fight. Their slaws were extremely dangerous, and are even described today as “Wolverine claws”. These animals were herbivores, meaning they ate plants instead of meat.

Ground sloths became extinct somewhere about 10,000 years ago when more and more humans moved into their territory. Now it is difficult to point directly at humans for being the cause of their extinction, but scientists think this for a very important reason. The sloths we have today are those that stay up in trees, and scientists believe they survived because humans would not go up into tall trees to hunt them. Of course, it is a theory, but it is certainly interesting to think about.

Sloths Today

A two-toed sloth. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Classification
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
SubclassTheria
OrderPilosa
SuborderFolivora

Sloths nowadays are a beloved creature, and some are even kept as family pets. They can grow to be about 30 inches long and are around 15 pounds. Sloths are also very slow creatures and live in trees where they sleep, eat, and mate. There are two different types of sloths; two-toed sloths and three-toed-sloths. Sloths are found primarily in Central and South America in tropical areas and rainforests. Unfortunately, sloths are highly sought upon as pets and are victims of poaching to be sold as pets. While they are popular pets they do have a very specific ecology that most times cannot be met outside of their own natural habitat.

Sloths sleep up to 20 hours a day and are actually so slow that they have algae growing on them. Sloth babies hold onto their mother for half a year, then go out on their own but still communicate with their mother through calls (unlike most human children). These slow animals eat sticks, leaves, and even flower buds, and have an extremely slow metabolism so it takes a long time to digest their food. When sloths actually leave tress, which is not often, they are incredible swimmers because their arms are so long and strong. Their natural predators are jaguars and sometimes even eagles, but staying in the trees helps protect them, and even coloring provides them with plenty of camouflage. These animals are truly adorable and many people have pledged their lives to help protect and save these animals with the use of sloth rescues found throughout the world.

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Opinions expressed are solely the authors and do not express the views or opinions of Science Trends nor the author's institution.
Cite this article as:
Kate Broome, MA. Humans Chased Massive Sloths Thousands Of Years Ago, Science Trends, 2018. Available at:
http://doi.org/10.31988/SciTrends.16578
*Note, DOIs are registered Friday weekly and therefore may not work until then.

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