What the heck is that thing?

In a clip from the recent BBC program Museum of Life, visitors to London's Natural History Museum try to identify what kind of animal Megatherium was. Paleo fans will know it as one of the largest ground sloths to have ever lived (as well as one of the first to be described), but if I didn't know that and had no background in paleo, I might think it was a dinosaur, too!

More like this

A restoration of Megatherium from H.N. Hutchinson's Extinct Monsters. For over a century and a half dinosaurs have been the unofficial symbols and ambassadors of paleontology, but this was not always so. It was fossil mammals, not dinosaurs, which enthralled the public during the turn of the 19th…
Sloths. Were there predatory sloths? Sloths that lived in the sea? Sloths that dug immense tunnels? Sloths on Antarctica? Sloths so keen to get to the US of A that they didn't wait for the land bridge, but swam the way instead? Well, let's see... Today I was asked a question about sloths. Sloths…
I was going to title this post 'How a tyrannosaur was mounted', or 'How to mount a tyrannosaur', but that seemed childish. Eventually I went for a title based on a movie, as that isn't at all childish. If I could travel in time, high on the list of things to do would be visits to see dead animals:…
The skeleton of Megatherium, as figured in William Buckland's Geology and Mineralogy Considered With Reference to Natural Theology. There is something fantastically weird about giant ground sloths. Creatures from a not-too-distant past, close enough in time that their hair and hide is sometimes…

I don't think that anyone with even a modicum of anatomical or biological knowledge would mistake Megatherium for a dinosaur. It's so obviously a mammal that most anyone ought to recognize it as such, altho perhaps not recognize it as a xenarthran. I reckon that many folks might think it is some sort of giant bear.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink

Modicum is right. I just showed my son (aged 10) a still image from the video above and asked, "What's that?"

He glanced at it briefly, said, "Giant sloth. I love those things," and went back to dismembering lego on the Wii.

When Charles Darwin excavated a Megatherium at Punta Alta near Bahia Blanca during the Beagle voyage, he originally thought it to be 'allied to the Rhinoceros':

Here are some other images of the Natural History Museum's Megatherium - one a marvellous old etching, the other a photo taken by yours truly:

50 points for the kid who said 'giant koala' for recognising mammalian herbivore.