The DNA of one of the strangest Ice Age giants was analyzed from a 12,000-year old fossil obtained from Argentina, which was actually a gigantic armadillo.
The mammal was said to be a tank-like animal as huge as a small car with bulbous bony shell and spiky, club-shaped tail. Scientists have confirmed on Monday that the animal was a member of an extinct family lineage of gigantic armadillos. They named the creature Doedicurus, and found out that it was a plant-eater that most probably weighed about a ton. They believe it roamed the pampas and savannas of South America and become extinct sometime 10,000 years ago along with other gigantic Ice Age animals.
Evolutionary biologist Frederic Delsuc from France’s Université de Montpellier said that, “With a length of more than three meters (10 feet) from head to tail, it certainly looks like a small car, like a Mini or Fiat 500.”
It belonged to a group called glyptodonts that lived alongside giant ground sloths, sabre-toothed cats and flightless carnivorous “terror bird”. Scientists have said that some glyptodonts have reached as far as north as southern portions of the United States which is presently known as Arizona through the Carolinas.
The research helped scientists put the Doedicurus and other glyptodonts to the lineage of the armadillo family after seeing the results of the test made on small fragments of DNA extracted from the fossil’s carapace.
The researchers used a very sophisticated method to isolate the mitochondrial DNA of the creature from tons of environmental contaminants that already leached into the fossils over the thousands of years.
The lineage was traced as far as 35 million years ago with the oldest armadillo fossil found in Brazil aged 58 million years old.
According to another researcher Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University in Canada, “That’s the biggest armadillo-looking creature I’ve ever seen, and it has a tail like an Ankylosaurus. Yikes!”
The creature highly resembles the dinosaur Ankylosaurus that also has an armored body with a club-like tail.
They described the resemblance as an example of “convergent evolution”. In here, different organisms evolve independently to form similar features just to adapt to the same environment.
There is still an on-going debate as to whether humans have contributed to the extinction of glyptodonts. Poinar was part of the scientists who believed that the extinction of the creatures was not only due to climate change back during the Ice Age but also due to human hunting.
The study was published in the journal Current Biology.
Source: Business Insider