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The Giant Sloth
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Fossilized Sloth Dung

Fossilized bones of the Shasta ground sloth were found in a cave in Southeastern Arizona (Kartchner Caverns) along with its coprolite. What is a coprolite? It is fossilized dung!

A coprolite is an important find because scientists carefully examine it to find out what the animal ate when it was alive. This information helps scientists learn more about the extinct animals and the environment they lived in.

The coprolite of the sloth revealed that the animal ate a great deal of a certain plant called ephedra, also known as Mormon Tea. Ephedra is used today by people, but not as food, as medicine! An artificial form called pseudoephidrine is used in many cold remedies. It is a mild stimulant when taken in its natural form, usually as a tea. It has a strong flavor and the shrub is found growing all over the desert.

Sloths were large animals known to move very slowly. Perhaps ephedra, eaten in large quantities, was beneficial to the animal's metabolism. Moving slowly probably would have made them easy prey, but there is no evidence that humans hunted them. Maybe the strong taste of the plant affected the way the meat tasted which could explain why humans didn't hunt them.

Cartoon:  No, Leonard, If you can wipe it off your boot it probably isn't a coprolite just yet!

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Last updated: 10-23-2009