Where Did Giant Ground Sloths Live? Certainly Not In Trees Like Today’s Sloths Do!

In many of my articles here at allaboutsloths.com, I write about sloths in such a way that portrays them as cute, gentle, lovable, and adorable animals (which they are). But even these darlings of the animal kingdom have a history that may surprise a lot of people. As giant ground sloths, they were anything but the cute, gentle, lovable, and adorable animals that they are today. In today’s article, I am going to be discussing some of these sloths of the past in a bit more detail as I attempt to answer the question, “Where did giant ground sloths live?”

As humans, we all have a past, we all have a history, and we all have experiences that have made us who we are today. Animals also have their pasts, their histories, and their experiences, too. I find sloths to be such amazing animals and when I learned about what sloths were like way back when…..when they were giant ground sloths…..I was very surprised (to say the least).

As I go about discussing some sloth history (in particular, that of the giant ground sloths), I will do so in the following manner: first, I will introduce some of the giant ground sloths by name, then I will present some information about their lives and where they lived, after which I will then talk about a bit about some of the ways that they have evolved and adapted, and I will end up with a discussion about what happened to these animals.


Sloths As Beasts? Really?

As difficult as it might be to imagine, the sloths of the past were very, very different from the sloths of today. Some of these beasts from the past include Megatherium, Mylodontidae, Thalassocnus, Diabolotherium, Megalonyx, and Sibotherium Ka. Some of these monsters could grow to be 20 feet long, be able to stand over 12 feet tall, and weigh over 5,000 lbs! For more information about each of these particular sloths from the past, check out my article titled, “Evolution Of Sloths – A Bit Of History“.


The Lives Of Some Giant Ground Sloths

Let’s now go into a bit more detail about each of the six giant ground sloths as presented in the previous paragraph:

  • Megatherium – this particular ground sloth was the biggest one of them all. It initially lived in South America but eventually also lived in North America. It became extinct around 11,000 years ago and evolved to become the three-toed sloth. Wow, what an evolution!
  • Mylodontidae – this sloth was able to dig huge holes and tunnels while it lived in both South America and North America. Like the Megatherium sloth, the Mylodontidae sloth also became extinct around 11,000 years ago.
  • Thalassocnus – this ground sloth spent some of its time living on land and some of its time living in the water. The two areas where the Thalassocnus sloth walked (and swam) were in what is now Chile and Peru. It became extinct around four million years ago.
  • Diabolotherium – this particular sloth was very skilled in climbing rocks and lived in caves in what is now Peru and Puerto Rico. It became extinct around 20,000 years ago.
  • Megalonyx – while not as big as the Megatherium sloth, this particular sloth was still a very big one. It spread out over a large part of both Central America and North America (even into what are now Alaska, U.S.A. and Yukon, Canada). It became extinct around 11,000 years ago and evolved to become the two-toed sloth.
  • Sibotherium Ka – standing almost 10 feet tall, this sloth roamed around what is now Costa Rica and became extinct approximately 5.8 million years ago.


Then Compared To Now

Besides evolving from huge beasts as giant ground sloths to become so much smaller (and so much cuter) animals, numerous other adaptations have occurred in the sloth’s history, some of which include the following:

  • Claws – claws have been extremely useful to sloths throughout their history and they remain a vitally important part of their anatomy today. While being used for numerous activities in the past (such as digging and grabbing onto the ocean floor), today’s sloths use their claws primarily to hold securely onto tree branches. For more information about the claws of sloths, check out my article titled, “Why Do Sloths Have Long Claws? Let’s Examine The Reasons“.
  • Habitat – the ground sloths of the past lived on the land, in caves, and in the water while the sloths of today spend most of their time way, way up in the trees in the rainforests of Central and South America.
  • Slowness – sloths are known by many people for their slowness, which they most definitely are. Evolving from ground dwellers to tree-dwellers has resulted in the sloth slowing down over the years.

For more information about sloth adaptations, check out my article titled, “Sloth Adaptations – Such Amazing Animals!


Whatever Happened To These Giant Ground Sloths?

It should not come as a surprise that the reason giant ground sloths became extinct was as a result of human activities. Humans hunted them and ate them until there were no more to be found. Even to this day, humans pose numerous threats to sloths (and to so many other animals, for that matter). For some more information regarding this, check out my article titled, “Are Sloths Endangered? The Sad Reality“.


Giant Ground Sloths Will Always Be A Part Of History

In this article, I discussed the extinct giant ground sloths in a bit of detail in an attempt to answer the question, “Where did giant ground sloths live?”. I did so by introducing some of the giant ground sloths by name, presenting some information about their lives and where they lived, talking a bit about some of the ways that they have evolved and adapted, and explaining what caused them to go extinct.

What a difference sloths of the past were compared to the sloths of today! I hope that this article provided you with some interesting and useful information and that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below and I will be sure to reply.

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  • This has been the most interesting article about sloths I have read so far! It’s really interesting to know how big the sloths used to be, especially the two-toed and three-toed, and how they evolved in not thousands but millions of years. Your explanation makes perfect sense about what might be the cause. Some of us humans have destroyed not only the animals but their habitats too!
    Imagine how we (humans) may be like in a few million years! I would love to know that.
    Many thanks for another amazing article about the sloths.

    • Thanks, Habib. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this article.

      I can’t imagine what humans may be like in a million years – what a thought!

      Thank you for your comments.

  • Holy Moly! There really were Sloths over 10 feet??? That is Breath taking! Those ancient ground Sloths really must have been really a nightmare to see. Although contrary to the research video I saw on Youtube which said The 3 toed Sloth had no similarity to the Ancient ground Sloths? Well I think from your article which makes more sense, there must have been similarities.

    • Michael Christmann says:

      The Megatherium sloth could actually grow to be 20 feet long and I agree with you that it must have been quite the sight to see them walking across the land!

      As far as similarities between 3 toed sloths and ancient ground sloths goes, the main similarity that all sloths (3 toed, 2 toed, and extinct ones) have shared throughout history is the existence and usefulness of their claws.

      Thank you for your comments.

  • luisalicea480 says:

    Excellent article. I do not know about this species. Never heard of it.

    But as you describe on your article, this species is big and weighs a lot. To me, it is a large mammal that weighs a lot.

    I never thought that these species were extinct too many years ago: Megatherium, Mylodontidae, Thalassocnus, 
    Diabolotherium, Megalonyx and Sibotherium Ka.

    This is the first lesson I have learned of it. Thank you.

    • Michael Christmann says:

      Yes, they were definitely large mammals that weighed a lot!

      I’m glad that you learned something new from my article today.

      Thank you for commenting on it.

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