The glyptodont was a prehistoric mammal the size of a
small car. It had a large shell,
resembling that of a turtle and a long armored tail. “Some of the glyptodonts, such as Doedicurus, had an armored tail which
ended in a viciously spiked club, a weapon of defense similar to that possessed
by the ankylosaurs” (Norman, 190).
The glyptodont was armored from nearly head to toe.
Its head had a small cap of armor and its tail was
enrobed in a tube of armor plating. “The skulls of
glyptodonts were very deep, and housed extremely
powerful muscles which allowed these animals to
grind up abrasive grasses.” The teeth used for
grinding up plant matter were open-rooted so that
they continued to grow
despite being worn down by eating abrasive materials. The glyptodont was a placental mammal,
meaning that it developed inside the mother’s uterus and was born almost fully
developed. Although these animals were
extremely large, the glyptodont was most likely gentle because it was an
herbivore. Its large spiked tail was
used for protection against saber-tooth tigers.
It may have also been used in mating practices as two males fight over a
female (Moss, par. 15).
There has been question as to whether
the force of the glyptodont’s tail may have been enough to produce the large
cracks found in some fossil remains of their shells. Researchers at the
The glyptodont belongs to an animal group called
edentates, which means “toothless.” This
name is actually misleading. All of the
members of this group have teeth except for the anteater. Another name given to this group is
xenarthrans, which means “strange joint.”
This term is used to describe the group’s unusual backbones. According to “Successful in Spite of
Themselves,” an article written for Natural History, “In most mammals,
the paired overlapping surfaces that prevent dislocation between vertebrae are
flat or faintly curved, but in these animals, the surfaces are scrolled into an
elaborate set of interlocking ridges and valleys.” This was to help the glyptodont carry such a
large and heavy shell (“Successful,” par. 4 &5).
The edentates developed following
the extinction of the dinosaurs, emerging about three million years ago (Moss,
par. 1). “Among the edentates were
armadillos, which first appeared during the Paleocene,” explains author David
Norman. “During the more recent Pliocene
and Pleistocene Epoch,” the glyptodonts appeared (
The edentates were almost entirely confined to South America until the “Panamanian isthmus reconnected North and
Darwin found shells and bones in a
sand bank while exploring a bay on his trip on the HMS Beagle. He had the fossils shipped to
The glyptodont became extinct 10,000
years ago (“Successful,” par. 10) during the most recent Ice Age. It was one of the three-fourths of the large
mammals to disappear in North America and one of the four-fifths of them to
become extinct in South America (
Armadillos, or armored pigs are the
most closely related species of the glyptodont.
They too, have armored plating covering almost their entire bodies, but
the modern armadillo is much smaller than the large glyptodont. Most of the early armadillos died out,
leaving about 20 species on Earth today, all of which are in
The modern armadillo has been
nicknamed the “armored pig” because it changed its food preference from only
plants to almost anything. It is now a
carnivore, feeding on insects, “small lizards, salamanders, snakes, frogs, and
toads” (Smith, par. 13). The armadillo
is becoming more versatile to climate changes and has been increasing its
resistance to colder temperatures every year (Haines, 201).
Some quick information: http://www.biologydaily.com/biology/Glyptodon
Lifelike figurine photo: http://dinofarm.com/glyptodon.html
Glyptodont Photo: http://prehistoricsillustrated.com/pg_kc_10.html
Link to various glyptodont facts: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/3005.shtml
Skull replica photo: http://www.skullsunlimited.com/fossil-glyptodont.html
Glyptodont shell fossil: http://www.indiana9fossils.com/Vertebrates/Glyptodont.htm
Glyptodont scale samples: http://bassexpert.com/fossil/FossilPages/GlyptodontScales.htm
Glyptodont Info: http://www.savvycenter.com/explorer/news/glypto.htm
Glyptodont fossil photos: http://www.fossilexpeditions.com/armad.htm
Information on Pleistocene animals: http://www.richland2.k12.sc.us/rce/Websites/fossils.htm
Callahan, Tim, et al. “How The History of Life Was Discovered: Part I.” Skeptic.
“Giant Armadillos Used Tails as Battle-Axes.” Current Science
1999. Vol. 85,
Iss. 5, p.13. Research Library. ProQuest.
Haines, Tim. Walking With Prehistoric Beasts.
Moss, Meg. “Old Cold:
Living in Ice Age
3, Iss. 2, p. 6-12.
Research Library. ProQuest.
Norman, David. Prehistoric Life: Rise of the Vertebrates.
Smith, Dwight G. “The Armored Pig.” The World & I.
Vol. 14, Iss. 8, p. 174-179. Research Library. ProQuest. Cochise
College Library, Sierra Vista, AZ. 13 April 2005. http://www.proquest.com
“Successful In Spite of Themselves.” Natural History. 1 Apr. 1994: 50.
Research Library. ProQuest.
Sutcliffe, Antony J. On the Track of Ice Age Mammals.
University Press, 1985.