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This chapter reviews the paleobiology of pilosans (anteaters and sloths) from the
Santa Cruz Formation, which comprise at least one genus of vermilinguan and 11
genera of sloths. Paleobiological studies performed on these xenarthrans
include: estimation of body mass (through multivariate regression); analysis of
the limbs so as to infer the locomotor habits and substrate use (through
morphometric and qualitative-comparative morphofunctional analyses), and studies
of the masticatory apparatus to infer probable feeding habits (mainly through
analysis of tooth morphology and wear facets, plus the anatomy of the
masticatory apparatus as a whole). Santacrucian anteaters were small animals,
about 6 kg, well suited for climbing and for scratch-digging the substrate in
searching for their preferred food, social insects. Various sloths were
moderately large-sized forms, the largest reaching about 100 kg, with a
locomotor pattern distinct from that of living sloths, resembling more that of
vermilinguans and pangolins. The results suggest well-developed digging
capabilities, but semi-arboreal habits cannot be ruled out. Megatherioid sloths
were most likely leaf eaters, and the primary method of food reduction must have
been by shearing or cutting (with a predominance of orthal movements).
Mylodontid masticatory movements included a larger transverse component, and
food reduction must have been by crushing and grinding, which suggests they fed
on more compact, three-dimensional, and fibrous food items such as the
underground storage organs of plants. The semi-arboreal habits suggested for
anteaters and, probably, sloths indicate they lived in forests or that forested
areas were present nearby. The specialized feeding habits of vermilinguans are
indicative of subtropical and warm temperate environments because they would
have depended on a year-round availability of social insects.
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