Researchers reveal new findings on one-tonne ‘South American yeti’

12 Mar 2020

Illustration of Oreomylodon wegneri. Image: Pablo Lara/CTyS

The remains of a giant sloth creature dubbed the ‘South American yeti’ have been discovered in the inter-Andean valleys of Ecuador.

Thousands of years ago, a creature roamed South America that has been nicknamed the ‘South American yeti’. New remains discovered by a team of palaeontologists show the creature lived in the mountains and inter-Andean valley of Ecuador at more than 2,500 metres above sea level.

This creature weighed approximately one tonne, had large claws and a snout adapted to withstand extreme altitudes and low temperatures. When the creature was alive – between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago – its homeland would have been predominantly grassland, where temperatures were between six and seven degrees Celsius warmer than they typically are today.

Importantly, the team discovered enough remains to rebuild an almost complete body of the giant creature. Its scientific name is Oreomylodon wegneri, or mountain mylodon.

For more than 100 years, fossil remains of this giant beast have been found between 2,500 and 3,100 metres in altitude from north to central Ecuador. However, it has now been re-affirmed as a unique species of terrestrial sloth that lived exclusively on high ground.

Skull of the giant sloth held in one hand.

The skull of Oreomylodon wegneri. Image: CTyS

Not a loner

The team of Argentinian and Ecuadorian researchers found that the creature’s claws were located on its back and front legs, but added that it might be some time before more details of the creature can be discovered.

In 2008, three examples of adults and one juvenile were found at a site located near the city of Quito. “The finding of three examples in the same place makes us think that these animals lived in herds, a completely new fact for all terrestrial sloths,” said Román Carrión of the Polytechnic School of Quito, lead author of the research, speaking to the research agency CTyS .

Therefore, the image of the lone abominable snowman we may associate with a yeti doesn’t correspond to this giant sloth. These creatures were also herbivores.

Speaking of the creature’s special snout, Carrión said that it developed a wider nose than other species of giant sloths known so far. It allows the South American yeti to moisten the dry air it inhaled and maintain humidity by exhaling the air.

It is also possible, he added, that the creature had an extremely sensitive sense of smell, which could affect the interaction between males and females as well as the boundaries of their territories.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic