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Feb 23, 2016 10:21 AM EST

Ancient Armadillo Ancestor Was Practically the Size of a Small Car

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A new analysis of ancient DNA belonging to glyptodont confirms the giant tank-like creature is an ancestor to the modern-day armadillo.

Published in the journal Current Biology, the new study details an animal named Doedicurus that lived about 10,000 years ago and likely resembled an armadillo about the size of a small car.

"Ancient DNA has the potential to solve a number of evolutionary questions, but it is often extremely difficult to obtain endogenous DNA, that is, DNA actually belonging to the animal being sampled, rather than some contaminant," study co-author Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist and physical anthropologist at McMaster University, said in a press release. "In this particular case, we used a technical trick that allowed us to selectively enrich our Doedicurus DNA extract so that we had enough endogenous genetic material to work with."

Doedicurus grew to be more than a dozen feet long and weighed at least 3,000 pounds, sporting the armadillo's defining body armor.

"Despite their ungainly appearance, different species of glyptodonts occupied habitats as distinct as open grassland and dense woodland, all the way from Patagonia to the southern parts of the continental United States," study co-author Ross MacPhee, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Mammalogy, said in the release. "Although their disappearance has been blamed on human depredation as well as climate change, some species persisted into the early part of the modern or Holocene epoch, long after the disappearance of mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Like the loss of giant ground sloths, mastodons, and dozens of other remarkable mammalian species, the precise cause of the New World megafaunal extinctions remains uncertain."

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