What is megafauna and examples - Summary and photos

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50 thousand years ago, the landscapes on the planet were much more different than we know them today. The special climatic conditions, and even the absence of man, favored the presence of large animals that are now extinct. The Homo sapiens He came to live with these animals and, many myths and legends that persist today, were created around this coexistence with giant animals. In this Green Ecologist article we will delve into ancient periods to explain to you what is megafauna and examples.

What is megafauna

The term megafauna depends on the context in which it is used. Mamma zoologists use the term to refer to large animals that are greater than 45 kilos, while other wildlife researchers use it to refer to animals that are high up in the food chain.

However, most of the scientific literature uses this term to refer to the huge land animals from prehistoric times from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene, that is, from approximately 46,000 to 1,420 years before the present. This period is known as the extinction of the Quaternary megafauna, which was caused by climatic causes and glacial cycles, but curiously, it also coincided with the arrival of the population of the Homo sapiens.

The behavior of the man of that time was not very different from that of today. The man began to hunt the existing faunaEspecially the megafauna, which, because they were larger, better met their needs. They ended up overreaching to the point of overhunting. To this day, it is still debated which of these two scenarios is the most plausible, although with the new findings, more studies are inclined towards the overhunting hypothesis.

Giant armadillo

This armadillo (Holmesina septentrionalis) It lived in America, from Mexico to the United States during the Pleistocene. I weighed 200 kilos Y measured 1 meter high at the withers, that is, up to the shoulders when standing on all fours, by 2.5 meters long. This species was omnivorous, although it also fed on some insects. The flexible plates on its shell helped it defend itself against predators.

You can read more information about What animals are omnivores in this other article that we recommend.


The gender Mammuthus It belonged to the same family as elephants and existed from the Pliocene to the Holocene. They had proboscises, long fangs, a bulging head and, in the case of living in cold areas, they had thick fur that covered their entire body. Their teeth are particular because, like elephants, they had tall, crested molars to avoid wear and tear that their herbivorous diet could generate.

Mammoths M. sungari, the largest that existed, measured 5 meters high Y 9 meters long, but there were also dwarfs, like M. primigenius which was barely 1 meter tall. All genera of mammoths became extinct, regardless of whether they were giants or not. They are different from gender Mammut, who belong to the family mammutidae.

Here you can find more information about Why mammoths became extinct in this Green Ecologist article.


Commonly known as the giant sloths, the megaterios (Megatherium) They are animals that could measure up to 6 meters in height. Unlike today's sloths that hang from trees, they were terrestrial. They fed on two legs and used their huge nails to hold onto trees of those who fed. Too they used these nails to defend themselves or even to dig for edible tubers. This species of megafauna existed from the Pleistocene to the Holocene.


The guphotheres (Gomphotheriidae) they were proboscideans, as well as being the current relatives of elephants and mammoths. They had a very long face and short trunk, two pairs of fangs protruding from its mouth, with the lower ones bent inwards. Your appearance reminds of a mix between tapir and wild boar. The reduced skull could accommodate fewer molars than the other proboscids and could measure up to 3 meters in height. It inhabited near bodies of water, from the Miocene to the Holocene.

Image: Wikiwand

Although the guphotheres no longer exist, as we have mentioned, their physical appearance resembles that of the tapir. You can find out why the tapir is currently in danger of extinction in this post by Green Ecologist.

Marsupial lion

This feline (Thylacoleo carnifex) he weighed 160 kilos and was 75 centimeters tall. This species of megafauna existed during the Pleistocene and became extinct 50,000 years ago. It was about largest carnivorous animal on the Australian continent. It had hunting abilities just like the felids of today, with silent attack strategies accompanied by lunges with sharp claws and fangs.

If you are curious about the animals of Australia, here we bring you a list of 19 animals in danger of extinction in Australia.

Image: iHow

Cave bear

The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) was larger than the Kodiak bear, the current giant bear. Half 1.3 meters high and 2.6 meters long, which when standing on two legs reached 3 meters. It weighed up to 700 kilos and occupied a long range of space, encompassing practically all of Europe during the Pleistocene. Its name is because inhabited caverns, used to achieve their hibernation periods that they could share with prehistoric humans.

You can find out more information about which animals hibernate and why by reading this post from Green Ecologist.

Image: Vix

Other examples of megafauna

Next, we are going to name another series of species of extinct giants in order to know more details on the subject.

  • Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon). A shark that measured up to 20 meters in length, weighing 50 tons and was three times greater than the current great white shark.
  • Aesop's swimming pig (Neochoerus aesopi). Similar to capybaras, but weighed up to 170 kilos. He lived in Mexico.
  • Giant kangaroo (Procoptodon goliah). He had the ability to raise his arms above himself to pluck branches from trees. It was six feet tall and had legs similar to horse hooves.
  • Sabertooth (Smilodon populator). It lived in South America, with a height of 1.20 and a weight of up to 400 kilos. His name alluded to his long teeth of up to 19 centimeters.
  • Giant dragonfly (Meganeura). It was a dragonfly with a wingspan of 80 centimeters, from wing to wing, which lived with the first insects during the Carboniferous.
  • Steller's Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas). The largest mermaid ever, 10 meters long and weighing up to 10 tons. It managed to survive the extinctions of the Quaternary, but it was eliminated as soon as it was discovered, in the 18th century, by intense human hunting. If you are interested in the topic, you can also read about the Causes and consequences of poaching in animals here.
  • Megalocero (Megalocerus giganteus). Known as the giant moose, it had antlers of an impressive size up to 3.5 meters from side to side. His body was proportional, measuring approximately 2 meters.
  • Arctic giant camel. It inhabited the Arctic in seasons of global warming, which did not have perpetual ice and was more like a forest. It was 30% taller than today's camels.
  • Pelagornis (Pelagornis sandersi). They were Pleistocene seabirds, with a wingspan of 7 meters in size and which has positioned them as the largest birds that have ever existed.

Current giant animals

Some species that today share time and space with us managed to survive the massive extinctions of the Quaternary. Here are some of those examples:

African elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The African elephant is the largest land animal in existence, standing 4 meters tall and weighing 5 tons. They are larger than Asian elephants and, like their extinct proboscidean relatives, they have a distinctive pair of tusks and long prehensile trunks to aid them in a myriad of activities.

Caribbean manatee (Trichechus manatus)

It is the largest mermaid that survives. It can measure up to 4.6 meters with a weight of up to 1,500 kilos. It is a relative of the extinct Steller's sea cow.

European bison (Bison bonasus)

It is the largest mammal in Europe. It is the result of the hybridization between two extinct bison, Bison priscus Y Bos primigenius, so it represents a bridge between prehistoric times with current modernity.

Recall that the last mass extinction was largely human-generated. This makes us rethink our current role as unsustainable predators of natural resources. While megafauna still exist, we must begin to change our devastating anthropogenic behavior to conserve the biodiversity that still exists and has intrinsic biological value.

We leave you this article by Green Ecologist on how the human being is largely responsible for the extinction of species so that you can complete your information.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is megafauna and examples, we recommend that you enter our Biodiversity category.

  • Moleón, M., Sánchez-Zapata, J… Donázar, J. , Revilla, E., Martín-López, B., Gutiérrez-Cánovas, C. (2022). Rethinking megafauna. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 287 (1922). Available at: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2019.2643
  • Days, R. Eng, J. (2022). Capybaras in Mexico. Available at: https://www.sabermas.umich.mx/secciones/articulos/496-capibaras-en-mexico.html
  • Badillo, L. (2022). Extinction of megafauna in the Pleistocene related to the presence of humans. The Science Day. Available at: https://ciencias.jornada.com.mx/2017/01/02/relacionales-extincion-de-megafauna-en-el-pleistoceno-a-presencia-de-humanos-6933.html
  • Europa Press. (2013). The giant camels of the Arctic. Available at: https://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2013/03/05/ciencia/1362502884.html
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