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Home > Research & Collections > News > Hi, This is a Ground Sloth’s Finger

Hi, This is a Ground Sloth’s Finger

And that’s not all

It’s hard to believe this is the digit of an extinct giant ground sloth.


It’s pretty unusual to find fingers in our Vertebrate Paleontology Collections. Most fossils are preserved bones —  they’re the body part most likely to fossilize, since they’re hard and sturdy. Soft tissues like muscle, skin, hair, and poop usually decompose before they have the chance to get preserved.

That’s why some of the material we have from Shasta ground sloths is particularly interesting. Found in a cave in Nevada, the conditions were right for some of these rarer tissues to preserve. They’re also only 10,000 or so years old, not millions of years like some of the other specimens in our paleontology collections. Soft tissues are valuable for research because they can tell us so much about how an animal lived — such as what it ate or if it suffered from any ailments. And just as exciting, there’s the possibility of getting DNA from these specimens for genetic testing, which can help us better understand these creatures from the past.

But what’s that, now? You want to see more than just a finger? Well, you’re in luck because we also have hair and poop.

a plastic bag full of tan colored hair, each strand a few inches long

This is 100% real, all natural Shasta ground sloth hair. It’s hair. Look at it! Its color may have faded over time, but otherwise it’s beautifully intact.

a photo of a sloth poop, which looks a bit like a cow patty, or a perfectly executed soft serve

And for the pièce de résistance, I give you… ground sloth poop. Look at it, in all its fecal glory. It’s such a nice tidy turd. Apparently this ground sloth enjoyed a wholesome diet many thousands of years ago. And now we keep it in a cabinet at NHMLA for future generations to enjoy.

an illustration of a Shasta ground sloth, which is a bear-sized extinct sloth
A fair bit smaller than the more well-known Giant Ground Sloth, the Shasta Ground Sloth was roughly bear-sized.


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