Tuesday 26 June 2012

The joy of sloths

There's a risk that this post may upset those readers amongst you who subscribe to creationist theories, as it is going to make continued references - both explicitly and implicitly - to the theory of evolution and the planet Earth being more than 4000 years old. Sorry about that, but it's arguable that you have bigger problems than just this blog post if that is the case. You maniac.

One of my very favourite things about being a human being is that you get to live on Earth and that means you are sharing the self same small celestial rock that used to be the home to dinosaurs and GIANT GROUND SLOTHS. There's very little that makes me happier than a sloth, and the idea of a giant ground sloth lumbering around the place is simply thrilling. These animals were the size of elephants, plodding around, being sloths. It's a buy one, get 99 free sloth extravaganza. Hitting the sloth coupon book hard.

A giant ground sloth, yesterday. Geologically speaking.

The joy of the giant ground sloth is only just beginning, though. There are two more cherries on this particular delicious fuzzy giant cake.

First is co-evolution. If you've ever eaten an avocado or a mango, you owe it all to these now extinct giant animals. Fruit plants propagate their species, of course, by having their seeds inside their edible fruit pods. Lovely hairy animals come along and wolf down the tasty goodness and then wander off to do a crappins. The seed is therefore spread far and wide and even has its own rich and fertile starter growbag of poo to help it along. But how do you spread your seed (hur hur) far and wide if it is the size of an avocado's or a mango's pit. You need an animal gigantic enough to swallow a your fruit whole (and with a bunghole big enough to plop out the seed hole, too).

The theory goes that this necessary interdependence has led to such evolutionary anachronisms. So, hats off to animals like the giant ground sloth. They did a lot of the leg work (and the bottom work), just for long enough for a Mexican to come along and discover the potency of guacamole, then start to cultivate their own avocados without needing a slotharse. Unfortunately for the sloth, this co-existence with early man is likely to have caused their ultimate extinction. Because, obviously, you can't eat guacamole on its own.

Secondly, Mapinguari. Yes, some people believe that the ground sloth is not extinct at all, and still yomps around the forests of South America, pooing avocado trees out of its bum. Now, it's easy to be cynical here:
" a 1937 report from central Brazil claimed a mapinguari had gone on a three-week rampage, killing over 100 cows and ripping out the tongues from their carcasses. However, in all accounts it did not eat humans, although when it smells the presence of people it stands up on its back feet, becoming as tall as two metres, a movement similar to grizzly bears."
Of course, the common sense explanation for this is it's more likely to be a rogue population of bears - a currently existent animal - rather than a hitherto undiscovered pocket of an animal unknown to science beyond the fossil record. Not to mention the likelihood of slothful behaviour from a slothlike creature - presumably a giant ground sloth would need lots of giant ground naps and therefore would be fairly easy to stumble upon in rainforest clearings. Surrounded by dead cows and avocado trees, I would expect.

But I'm not going to be the one to do a avocado poo on this parade. The joy of cryptozoology (which regular readers of my blog will know is a subject that fascinates and excites me in equal measure) is in the fun of speculation, of possibility and of the unknown.

So a salute to our ground sloth cousins. They crapped out avocados and the ones who live in Bolivia shriek like stuck pigs, stink the place out and have great long matted woolly tails. A salute, too, to their smaller modern day cousins, why not. They are awesome.


5olly said...

Top Marks!

Megan Belcher said...

I LOVE THEM! Plus the one in your illustration looks like he has a naughty secret.


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