Monday 11 December 2017

Giant armadillo the size of a small car roamed Earth in Ice Age - scientists

An artist’s impression of two glyptodonts, giant extinct cousins of modern armadillos
An artist’s impression of two glyptodonts, giant extinct cousins of modern armadillos

Dean Gray

DNA extracted from a 12,000-year-old fossil from Argentina is providing unique insight into one of the strangest Ice Age giants: a tank-like mammal the size of a small car with a bulbous bony shell and a spiky, club-shaped tail.

Scientists said their genetic research confirmed that the creature, named Doedicurus, was part of an extinct lineage of gigantic armadillos.

Doedicurus was a plant-eater that weighed about a ton and roamed the pampas and savannas of South America, vanishing about 10,000 years ago, along with many other large Ice Age animals.

"With a length of more than three metres (10 feet) from head to tail, it certainly looks like a small car, like a Mini or Fiat 500," said Frederic Delsuc, an evolutionary biologist at Montpellier University.

It was a member of a group called glyptodonts that shared the landscape with giant ground sloths, sabre-toothed cats and towering, flightless, carnivorous "terror birds". Some glyptodonts made it as far north as southern portions of the United States, from what is now Arizona through the Carolinas.

The researchers were able to place Doedicurus and the other glyptodonts into the armadillo family tree after studying small fragments of DNA extracted from bits of the creature's hard shell. They used a sophisticated technique to fish mitochondrial DNA from a soup of environmental contaminants that had leached into the fossil over the eons.

They determined the glyptodont lineage originated about 35 million years ago. The oldest armadillo fossil, from Brazil, was about 58 million years old.

Asked what someone might think upon encountering Doedicurus, another of the researchers, Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University in Canada, said: "That's the biggest armadillo-looking creature I've ever seen, and it has a tail like an Ankylosaurus. Yikes!"

Doedicurus resembles the dinosaur Ankylosaurus, which also was heavily armoured and wielded a club-like tail.

The research was published in the journal 'Current Biology'.

Irish Independent

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