January 14th kicks off India’s Pongal Festival – day three
Before it linked with North America, ancient South America was very much like modern-day Australia – it was an isolated island where everything evolved to make you want to be somewhere else.
Giant ground sloth
Don’t let Ice Age fool you – ground sloths were huge. The most famous is Megatherium, whose name literally means “great beast.” This giant was the largest mammal on Earth, at about the size of modern elephants. It was only second in size to Mastodons and Mammoths, and was actually the most famous skeleton during the Georgian era before dinosaurs were discovered.
Josephoartigasia monesi (or, affectionately, “Ratzilla”) was the biggest rodent ever. It had a crazy bite force – strong enough to shatter tree roots and fight off the huge predators of the time.
The Terror Birds were a large group of huge, flightless birds between 3 and 10 feet tall. They had giant, powerful beaks supported by large, strong neck muscles. Scientists estimate that these predators could have run at around 30 mph.
This most famous of the Pleistocene predators crossed the land bridge between North and South America about 1 million years ago and established itself as an apex hunter. With its huge fangs (not usually used for attack but for finishing blows) and ability to tackle huge prey, Smilodon gradually disappeared around 10,000 years ago.
This is no Arizona-roadside animal. Doedircus clavicaudatus was a five-foot tall, 12-foot long monster with a huge domed carapace and a long tail ending in a large, spiky club.
Toxodon – the hippo/rhino
The first recorded Toxodon specimen found was bought by none other than Charles Darwin from a farmer in Uruguay. This 3,300-pound beast resembled a rhino with a hippo-like head and probably went extinct mostly due to humans (Toxodon remains are often found with arrowheads).
South America must have looked at Asia and North America’s Mammoths and Mastodons and thought to itself, “I can do that.” The result is the Stegomastodon, a 13,000-pound brute, resembling a beefier version of today’s elephants. Like its cousins in Asia and North America, it had two tusks which curved up and in.