A peek into our collections, one object at a time

Giant Sloth Dung

November 15, 2011

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Giant Sloth Dung, Pleistocene Epoch
Chip Clark, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Giant Sloth Dung, Pleistocene Epoch

The giant ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) is an ancient relative of living tree sloths, armadillos and anteaters. It lived during the Pleistocene Epoch (2.58 million years ago – 12,000 years ago) and stood 20 feet tall on its hind legs, using its huge claws to grasp tree limbs and scrape the bark off tree trunks for meals. 

We know this creature ate leaves, bark and twigs because we have fossil dung, or “coprolites,” from giant ground sloths. Sometimes conditions are so dry that the dung can be preserved for thousands of years with little change. In April 1941, this fossil dung was collected by Smithsonian curator Remington Kellogg at Rampart Cave in the Grand Canyon. It is estimated to be 100,000 years old.