A new analysis of ancient DNA belonging to glyptodont confirms the giant tank-like creature is an ancestor to the modern-day armadillo.
Glyptodonts, shelled mammals which first evolved about 35 million years ago, were long considered cousins of present-day armadillos. However, fresh analysis of a 14,000-year-old fossil has concluded that the ancient herbivores were the same creature.
Not only that, they grew as large as Volkswagen Beetle cars – the largest weighed around two tonnes, according to researchers. Today’s armadillos are lightweights in comparison, ranging in weight from 187lbs to 13lbs.
Their methods of defence differed from the modern animal, too. While today’s armadillos roll into a ball to protect itself, glyptodonts are believed to have depended on their shells and clubbed tails, as well as their vast size, for protection.
The tail would be “swung at any sexual rivals and potential predators who got too near”, says The Independent.
“Glyptodonts should probably be considered a sub-family of gigantic armadillos,” said Frederic Delsuc, of the National Centre for Scientific Research in France. “We speculate that the peculiar structure of their unarticulated carapace might have evolved as a response to the functional constraint imposed by the size increase they experienced over time.”
They roamed the open grasslands of what is now South America for millions of years before they went mysteriously extinct in the last Ice Age.