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Thousands of years ago, during the Earth's last ice age, the giant sloth trudged through North and South America. This huge, hairy beast was the size of an African elephant and, though it was mostly a gentle giant, it had claws that could fight off any predator that was brave enough to attack.

Clean Sweep: The giant sloth had 12-inch claws on its front feet and used them for stripping leaves off of branches. The claws also came in handy as powerful stabbing weapons if a predator came around.
Stand Tall: This beast could walk on all fours or on just its hind legs. When it reared up, the sloth towered at a height of 16 to 18 feet and could grab food from the tops of trees.

Tough Old Timers

Giant Sloth Back Image

Modern tree sloths are gentler, miniaturized versions of their ancient ancestors.

Much of what we know about the giant sloth comes from pieces of preserved skin and hair found in North American caves. The skin was as tough as armor and provided protection from predator's sharp teeth and claws. The closest living relatives of giant sloths are tree sloths; at 20 lbs., they're about four tons lighter than the giants of old.
Side Walker: The claws on a giant sloth's feet may have caused the animal to have balance problems. Fossil evidence shows that to compensate, the sloth walked using the sides of its feet and stood upright most of the time.
Tiger Trouble: One predator that the giant sloth had to face was the saber-toothed tiger. Size, strength and its huge claws would have given the sloth a fighting chance. However, the big cats often hunted in packs and would have been able to take down the sloth.

Timeline

Giant sloths lived from 30 million to 10,000 years ago, during the Tertiary and Quaternary Periods.

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