Ancient Glyptodonts Were Actually Modern Car-Sized Armadillos

Posted: Feb 23 2016, 12:55am CST | by , Updated: Feb 23 2016, 9:33pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Ancient Glyptodonts were Actually Modern Car-Sized Armadillos
An illustration of a glyptodont. Credit: Artist Carl Buell

DNA analysis confirms that gigantic Glyptodonts are related to modern car-sized armadillos.

Gigantic glyptodonts, who lived thousands of years ago, have long been thought of as modern armadillos. Both have similar body shape, a heavy shell on their back and a unique tail. New research suggests that they are related to each other genetically as well.

The family tree of this extinct car-sized animal has actually never been traced. Glyptodonts are placed within the group of large mammal known as Xenarthra which includes anteaters, tree sloths, extinct ground sloths and extinct pampatherers but their ancestral connections were always suspected by the scientists.

Recently, team of researchers has reconstructed the family tree of these giant beasts based on their ancient genome and sequenced the DNA of a 12,000 year old fossil belonging to genus Doedicurus.

Doedicurus was one of the largest-known species in the family and roughly has the size and weight of a Volkswagen Beetle. They could grow over 13 feet long and weighed some 3,000 pounds or more. These animals have spiky, club like tails which they probably used to combat against other animals. Doedicurus roamed the Earth during Pleistocene period until their extinction at the end of last Ice Age.

DNA analysis confirmed that gigantic glyptodonts are related to modern-day armadillos. Glyptodonts are basically an extinct lineage of armadillos that originated around 35 million years ago.

“Glyptodonts should probably be considered a subfamily of gigantic armadillos," said Frédéric Delsuc of CNRS 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.”

Researchers used a novel technique to extract, isolate and sequence a complete genome of the extinct animal and compared it to its living counterparts to confirm the relation.

“Ancient DNA has the potential to solve a number of questions such as phylogenetic position--or the evolutionary relationship--of extinct mammals, but it is often extremely difficult to obtain usable DNA from fossil specimens,” said Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University. “In this particular case, we used a technical track to fish out DNA fragments and reconstruct the mitochondrial genome.”

Research also suggests that glyptodonts’ size had increased tremendously over evolutionary time. Glyptodonts evolved from medium-size animals to true magafuana over the years before disappearing during the last glacial period. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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