GAINESVILLE --- At more than 6 feet long and weighing as much as 600 pounds, this is one armadillo that likely wouldn't have ended up as road kill.
That's about the size of the armadillo University of Florida researchers say roamed the Sunshine State 10,000 years ago, and now they have a well-preserved skull to prove it.
"The skull belonged to one of two species of giant armadillo that lived in Florida during the Pleistocene Epoch, and its unusually good preservation makes it one of only a handful of its kind in the United States," said Russ McCarty, a University of Florida senior biological scientist.
Found in a limestone quarry west of Gainesville, the skull now is at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, where researchers are preserving and restoring the specimen so it can be stored and displayed in the building's collections.
"It's a very important specimen because it is so complete and has all its teeth," McCarty said. "The wear patterns that we're able to see on the teeth may give us some valuable clues about these creatures' diet. We really don't know exactly what they ate. That information would give us a better understanding of the niche they occupied, their relationship to other animals, as well as the whole ecosystem of the time."
Called Holmesina septentrionalis, the beasts, like their smaller modern counterparts, spread to what now is Florida from South America. Ground sloths, tapirs and other exotic creatures followed the same route into the Sunshine State, he said.
Unlike today's armadillos that subsist on termites, ants and beetles, the ancient ones, weighing as much as 600 pounds, likely needed more substantial fare to survive, he said.
Unfused limb bones indicate the specimen was a juvenile, which may give clues about the armadillo's growth sequence, McCarty said. "We don't know much about juveniles or how they develop into adults," he said. "The few
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University of Florida