From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Temporal range: Pleistocene
Fossil specimen in Vienna at the Naturhistorisches Museum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Superorder: Xenarthra
Order: Cingulata
Family: Glyptodontidae
Genus: Glyptodon
Owen, 1839
  • G. clavipes Owen, 1839
  • G. elongatus Burmeister, 1866
  • G. euphractus Lund, 1839
  • G. munizi Ameghino, 1881
  • G. reticulatus Owen, 1845

Glyptodon (Greek for "grooved or carved tooth") was a large, armored mammal of the family Glyptodontidae, a relative of armadillos that lived during the Pleistocene epoch. It was roughly the same size and weight as a Volkswagen Beetle, though flatter in shape. With its rounded, bony shell and squat limbs, it superficially resembled turtles, and the much earlier dinosaurian ankylosaur, as an example of the convergent evolution of unrelated lineages into similar forms. Glyptodon is believed to have been a herbivore, grazing on grasses and other plants found near rivers and small bodies of water.


Glyptodon skeleton and shell, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Glyptodon is part of the superorder of placental mammals known as Xenarthra. This clade of mammals also includes anteaters, tree sloths, armadillos, and extinct ground sloths and pampatheres.

Glyptodon originated in South America. During the Great American Interchange, a set of migrations that occurred after North and South America were connected by the rising of the volcanic Isthmus of Panama, it migrated into Central America as far as Guatemala.[1] A closely related genus, Glyptotherium, reached the southern region of the modern U.S. about 2.5 million years ago. They became extinct about ten millennia ago, probably from human hunting.[2] The native human population in their range is believed to have hunted them and used the shells of dead animals as shelters in inclement weather.[3][4]


Artist's conception

Glyptodon measured 3.3 m (10.8 ft) in length, 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in height and weighed up to 2 tonnes.[5] It was covered by a protective shell composed of more than 1,000 2.5 cm-thick bony plates, called osteoderms or scutes. Each species of glyptodont had its own unique osteoderm pattern and shell type. With this protection, they were armored like turtles. Unlike most turtles, glyptodonts could not withdraw their heads, but instead had a bony cap on the top of their skull. Even the tail of Glyptodon had a ring of bones for protection. Such a massive shell needed considerable support, evidenced by features such as fused vertebrae, short but massive limbs, and a broad shoulder girdle.[6]

A Glyptodon skeleton in the Natural History Museum in Milan.

The nasal passage was reduced with heavy muscle attachments for some unknown purpose. Some have speculated that the muscle attachments were for a proboscis, or trunk, much like that of a tapir or elephant. The lower jaws were very deep and helped support massive chewing muscles to help chew coarse fibrous plants; a distinctive bar of bone projects downwards on the cheek, extending over the lower jaw, perhaps providing an anchor for powerful snout muscles. Another suggestion, made by A.E. Zurita and colleagues, is that the large nasal sinuses could be correlated with the cold arid climate of Pleistocene South America.[7][8]



  1. ^ "Glyptodon Owen 1839". Paleobiology Database. Retrieved 2014-09-09. 
  2. ^ MacPhee, ed. by Ross. D.E. (1999). Extinctions in near time : causes, contexts, and consequences. New York [u.a.]: Kluwer Acad., Plenum Publ. p. 25. ISBN 0306460920. 
  3. ^ Fidalgo, F., et al. (1986) "Investigaciones arqueológicas en el sitio 2 de Arroyo Seco (Pdo. de Tres Arroyos, prov. de Buenos Aires, República Argentina)" In: Bryan, Alan (ed.) (1986) New evidence for the Pleistocene peopling of the Americas Peopling of the Americas Symposia Series, Center for the Study of Early Man, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, ISBN 0-912933-03-8, pp. 221-269, in Spanish
  4. ^ Politis, Gustavo G. and Gutierrez, Maria A. (1998) "Gliptodontes y Cazadores-Recolectores de la Region Pampeana (Argentina)" ("Glyptodonts and Hunter-Gatherers in the Pampas Region (Argentina)") Latin American Antiquity 9(2): pp.111-134 in Spanish
  5. ^
  6. ^ David Lambert and the Diagram Group. The Field Guide to Prehistoric Life. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985. pp. 196. ISBN 0-8160-1125-7
  7. ^ Fernicola, Juan Carlos; Néstor Toledo; M. Susana Bargo, and Sergio F. Vizcaíno (October 2012). "A neomorphic ossification of the nasal cartilages and the structure of paranasal sinus system of the glyptodont Neosclerocalyptus Paula Couto 1957 (Mammalia, Xenarthra)". Palaeontologica Electronica: Article 15.3.27A. 
  8. ^ Gillette, David D. (2010). "Glyptodonts in arizona a saga of supercontinents, sea-floor spreading, savannas, and sabertooth cats". Arizona Geological Survey. Retrieved 25 March 2014.