Doedicurus. Wikimedia Commons


Doedicurus (Greek for "pestle tail"); pronounced DAY-dih-CURE-us


Swamps of South America

Historical Epoch:

Pleistocene-Modern (2 million-10,000 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 13 feet long and one ton



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large, thick shell; long tail with club and spikes on end


About Doedicurus

Its fellow giant armadillo Glyptodon gets all the press, but, pound for pound, Doedicurus may have been the more formidable megafauna mammal of the Pleistocene epoch. This slow-moving creature was not only covered by a large, domed, armored shell, but it possessed a clubbed, spiked tail similar to those of the ankylosaur and stegosaur dinosaurs that preceded it by tens of millions of years. (Why would a creature as resistant to predation as Doedicurus need a spiked tail? The answer is that males probably swung these dangerous implements at each other when competing for the attention of females.) For the record, some experts believe Doedicurus also had a short, prehensile snout, similar to an elephant's trunk, but solid evidence for this is lacking.

Recently, scientists were able to extract fragments of DNA from the fossilized carapace of a 12,000-year-old Doedicurus discovered in South America. No, they weren't attempting to de-extinct this mammal and reintroduce it back into the wild; rather, they wanted to establish once and for all the place of Doedicurus and its fellow "glyptodonts" on the armadillo family tree. Their conclusion: glyptodonts were in fact a distinct Pleistocene sub-family of armadillos, and the closest living relative of these thousand-pound behemoths is (wait for it) the Dwarf Pink Fairy Armadillo of Argentina, which only measures a few inches across!