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Mapinguari Sightings: Is the Giant Ground Sloth Still Alive?

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With interests in science and nature, the author explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.

Is the massive Megatherium ground sloth still alive in South America?

Is the massive Megatherium ground sloth still alive in South America?

Are Giant Ground Sloths Still Alive Today?

Paleontologists say giant ground sloths such as Megatherium died off thousands of years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Many large, prehistoric creatures disappeared from North and South America around the same time.

But one story gives us hope that the giant ground sloth could still be alive today. The legend of the Mapinguari is not only one of the most terrifying monster tales in modern times but may suggest that Megatherium may still roam the jungles of South America.

Is the Mapinguari really a giant ground sloth? If so, how can this be? Here’s a look at how some monsters may prove to be all too real, and massive beasts of the past might just come back to life.

Mapinguari Sightings

The Mapinguari is a nasty and frightening prehistoric monster, one you surely do not want to tangle with should you meet in a dark corner of the forest. Its legend is cemented in South American lore, dating back for generations.

Even as cryptids go, the Mapinguari is a strange one, more terrifying than some soggy lake monster and much less congenial than a hairy man-ape. The Mapinguari seems to be ripped straight from a science fiction movie or horror story.

Standing over nine feet tall, with nasty claws, backward-facing feet, and an extra mouth on its belly, the terrible beast would surely send you running for the hills if it didn’t get hold of you first.

Though, if accounts of locals are to be believed, you’d likely smell it coming and have ample chance to escape. The Mapinguari is said to give off a horrific scent.

It’s allegedly a carnivore, and devoured herds of cattle, but never has there been a documented assault on a human.

Mainstream scientists and researchers say this creepy cryptid probably isn’t real, of course. It’s thought to be a local legend and superstition, nothing more.

But, as legendary creatures go, the Mapinguari is surely one of the most bizarre. Some more creative versions of the animal claim it to have one eye in the center of its head and tough skin that deflects arrows.

No such creature could actually exist, could it?

Is the Mapinguari really a giant ground sloth?

Is the Mapinguari really a giant ground sloth?

Is the Mapinguari a Giant Ground Sloth?

Some researchers have an interesting theory about the Mapinguari. Some believe it may actually be a species of giant ground sloth, once thought extinct but now living in the depths of the forest.

Like the Mapinguari, ground sloths were big, smelly, and ferocious. Though they did not prey on humans, they certainly had the tools necessary to frighten them, and inflict serious damage should they cross paths. As a slow-moving animal, it needed such defenses to fend off predators like the giant short-faced bear.

The giant ground sloth still living in the form of the Mapinguari might seem like a stretch, but a closer look shows that many of the characteristics certain species of ground sloth exhibit are present in descriptions of the Mapinguari.


Megatherium was a genus of giant ground sloths that went extinct thousands of years ago. These massive animals walked on all fours, but when standing on their hind legs they were over three meters tall.

With tremendous claws on its hands and feet used for digging and grabbing vegetation, the claws and “backward-facing feet” of the Mapinguari are easily explained.

Even the mouth in the stomach and horrible stench might not be so far-fetched: Sloths have scent glands, so this “stomach” may simply be exactly that. Not to worry though. Ground sloths were vegetarians, so if you’re wandering around the jungles of Brazil you probably have nothing to fear, unless you’re dressed like a plant.

Could this extinct giant sloth and the Mapinguari be one and the same?

The Giant Ground Sloth

Megatherium and the Lazarus Taxon

A creature from the past returning to our world is not something all that bizarre and unprecedented. In fact, there is a name for species that go extinct or disappear from the fossil record and then reappear again: Lazarus Taxon.

The Coelacanth is the best-known example of a Lazarus Taxon. This is a six-foot fish that was believed to have gone extinct some sixty-five million years ago, only to be rediscovered back in the 1930s. This gives up pause to wonder what else might be out there, just awaiting rediscovery.

Could a population of giant ground sloths have managed to survive, deep in the dark jungles of South America, undiscovered by modern science for thousands of years? It’s hard to imagine, but jungles do not give up their secrets easily.

Of course in the world of cryptozoology, which presently is where the Mapinguari stands, there are plenty of examples of alleged prehistoric beasts said to still roam our world, from dinosaurs still alive in Africa, to the superstar of the cryptozoology world, Bigfoot himself.

Some cryptozoologists believe Bigfoot is the evolved remnants of a massive 10-foot ape species called Gigantopithecus.

Monster, Extinct Sloth, or Something Else?

Cryptids like the Mapinguari, which seem to have roots in extinct animals, are perhaps the most interesting of all. Even the most devout unbeliever would have to admit there is a possibility, no matter how remote, that an extinct species could still live deep in the jungles of the world. With so much unexplored, Megatherium could still be out there.

There is still always the possibility that the Mapinguari may be a new species altogether, separate from the giant sloth and of a category all its own. In the field of cryptozoology, this is the holy grail. The discovery of a new animal, especially one this bizarre, would send researchers into the jungle of South America in droves, and open doors in many fields.

Though the idea that this cryptid is an ancient giant sloth still living is very intriguing, to date researchers have not been able to track the creature down. Without a specimen, live or dead, it is hard for mainstream science to take the Mapinguari too seriously. Despite local sightings and stories, there is little hard evidence, and the forests of South America don't give up their secrets easily.

Could the mapinguari be a rare giant ground sloth or one of its ancestors, once thought lost to history but very much alive in the deep jungle?

Is Megatherium still alive, somewhere out there?

Do Creatures We Think are Extinct Still Roam the Earth?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


im here justtocomment on August 26, 2020:

i live in brazil and here there are not that many sightings but still are very overlooked this idea i tink the odds are high but hey platypus and pandas were too and this helped me do my homework i have an scientific name idea genus neomylodon species n.mapinguari

factcheckguy on July 18, 2019:

they were herbivores

Lazlo on June 07, 2019:

I think I have one living at the end of my garden.

mystery girl on May 07, 2018:

that was the best thing i've ever read in my intire internet life

jeff on March 18, 2018:

The Megatherium had a narrow mouth possibly for leafs and fruit after an ice age wouldn't those fruits die? Megatherium would have to evolve to the fruit and leafs of the rainforest and the humid rainforest and hide from humans

cryptid (author) from USA on May 02, 2017:

Thanks, Mr Waffles! I appreciate the kind words.

Mr Waffles on April 30, 2017:

This is one of if not the best article I've seen written about Mapinguari. It's such an underrated cryptid, and I'm incredibly glad you gave it the recognition it deserved in this article. The points you brought up were all excellent ones. Great Job!


cryptid (author) from USA on March 30, 2017:

@Pal: These descriptions are based on local legends, not the behavior of an actual prehistoric ground sloth. So, they absolutely may be exaggerated or embellished.

I'd also suggest that this creature was not necessarily docile. While it was a herbivore, it certainly had the size and tools to threaten away predators or anything it perceived as a danger. If humans did encounter such a creature it may have scared the heck out of them.

Pal on March 29, 2017:

This seems very crudely made

1. Eye witness accounts are very over used and are often very creatively changed into something it wasn't

2:it shows the ground sloth as a very powerful aggressive being it was docile similar to a deer gentle and timid but also having the ability to not be provoked not easily being something else is possible but is most likely a simple ground based herbivore nothing more

Lynda on May 30, 2016:

Great Ground Sloths lived in the grasslands, and also lived in large groups. I find it hard to believe we've missed the existence of elephant sized sloths (that could reach up to 20 feet tall when they stood on their hind legs) living in large groups in sparsely wooded areas. It's possible that they retreated into the jungle, but we've found no evidence of ancient sloths doing so. In addition, the great ground sloth was hunted to extinction. If the sloth and the mapinguari were the same, we would have stories of natives who hunted the mapinguari.

cryptid (author) from USA on October 11, 2015:

Thanks Misa! There are certainly a few viable theories attempting to explain the Mapinguari sightings in South America. Some people think its a South American Bigfoot, but an anteater is surely another possibility. I do think the most intriguing idea is a remnant population of some type of giant ground sloth.

Misa Amane on October 10, 2015:

Amazing article! No way I could have done better! I was just watching an episode of Beast Hunter about that! The mapinguari could also be an anteater that has reared up. Thet give off a fowl stench when they mark their territories. Another possibility is that it anctaly COULD be a giant ground sloth considering approximately 1/3 of the world's current mammals were considared to be extinct. If mapinguari are really giant ground sloths, that would explain the simmilarities between their supposed calls and a 3-toed sloth. If you get a sloth's call, slow it down and compare it to that of the mapinguari.

cryptid (author) from USA on January 05, 2015:

Thanks Dylan, and you make some good points!

Dylan on January 04, 2015:

Look at silverbacks and pandas, they were relatively recently discovered and were just thought to be myths for a long time as well. There are also rediscovered species popping up all the time as well. River dolphins, the ceolecanth, and Russian lions just to name a few. Being that ground sloths disappeared just roughly 10,000 ago, I think it is very possible. Especially in remote areas of South America that are still majorly uncharted by westerners. Great article btw bro.

cryptid (author) from USA on April 14, 2014:

I would be very happy too arthur!

arthur on April 12, 2014:

The giant ground sloth is a big animal weighting up to 5 tons if this animal still exists i would like to see it so searching for them is the only way to find this large animal and i like large mammals if this creature really exists i would be very happy very indeed.

cryptid (author) from USA on May 20, 2013:

Thanks for the kind words Diana and Mel! The Mapinguari isn't quite as famous as Bigfoot, but would be just as amazing of a find.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 18, 2013:

Who knows what lurks in the depths of the jungle? I am fascinated by the extinct giant mammals and the sloths in particular. The Solomon islands are also supposed to be inhabited by some mythical reptilian beast. I don't believe in the bigfoot legends, but if there are undiscovered crypt0-creatures the place to look for them would be in the dense depths of the jungle.

Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on May 18, 2013:

This does make you think. Voted up.

cryptid (author) from USA on February 19, 2013:

Thanks stacistathos! The Mapinguari is indeed a weird critter!

Staci Stathos from Charleston, SC on February 19, 2013:

This was a very interesting hub. This was all new to me. I enjoyed it very much!

cryptid (author) from USA on February 08, 2013:

Great point Jmills. That's a big theory regarding many legendary creatures. If they existed at some time in human history, there could be stories passed down verbally, particularly among native tribes. This is even true of Bigfoot as relates to Gigantopithecus as well as the Mapingauri and megatherium. Thanks for your insightful comment!

Jmillis2006 from North Carolina on February 07, 2013:

Maybe a grouns sloth that is the most reasonable explanation, and even If it is extinct now the legends could have been passed down from before.

hannah on January 03, 2013:

thank you cryptid i have been intersted in this animal for a while and all i can say is the only thing that it could be is a ground sloth

cryptid (author) from USA on January 03, 2013:

Hannah: Some sources call the Mapinguari a Bigfoot-like creature, but I think your right that it's probably a giant ground sloth.

hannah on January 03, 2013:

according to eye witnesses mapinguari is a ground sloth and every eye witnesses reports the claws, eyes,fur are very similar to the animal

PADDYBOY60 from Centreville Michigan on November 06, 2012:

Very interesting hub. Thank you.