Habits of the Megatherium

Much uncertainty has been felt about the habits of the Megatherium, or Great Beast. It has been asked whether it burrowed or climbed, or what it did; and difficulties have presented themselves on all sides of the question. Some have thought that it lived in trees as much larger than those which now exist as the Megatherium itself is larger than the common sloth.[1] This, however, is now known to be a mistake. It did not climb trees—it pulled them down; and in order to do this the hinder parts of its skeleton were made enormously strong, and its prehensile fore-legs formed so as to give it a tremendous power over any thing which it grasped. Dr. Buckland suggested that animals which got their living in this way had a very fair chance of having their heads broken. While Professor Owen was still pondering over this difficulty, the skull of a cognate animal, the Mylodon, came into his hands. Great was his delight when he found that the mylodon not only had his head broken, but broken in two different places, at two different times; and moreover so broken that the injury could only have been inflicted by some such agent as a fallen tree. The creature had recovered from the first blow, but had evidently died of the second. This tribe had, as it turns out, two skulls, an outer and an inner one—given them, as it would appear, expressly with a view to the very dangerous method in which they were intended to obtain their necessary food.

The dentition of the megatherium is curious. The elephant gets teeth as he wants them. Nature provided for the comfort of the megatherium in another way. It did not get new teeth, but the old ones went on for ever growing as long as the animal lived; so that as fast as one grinding surface became useless, another supplied its place.

[1] The sloth  only deserves its name when it is obliged to attempt to proceed along the ground; when it has any thing which it can lay hold of it is agile enough.