By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | November 1, 2016 07:33am ET
SALT LAKE CITY — An extinct giant sloth once used a spacious cave not just as a shelter but also as a massive toilet, leaving droppings on the cave floor whenever nature called. Now, scientists have analyzed the sloth's mummified dung and determined what plants the greyhound-size beast ate most frequently, according to new research.
Chemical analyses of the fossilized poop, known as coprolites, revealed that the ancient sloths primarily chowed down on an orange-flowered perennial shrub known as desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), a shrub called Mormon tea (Ephedra) and a drought-tolerant plant known as saltbush (Atriplex), said Ryan Haupt, who is leading the investigation while completing his doctorate in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming.
Scientists have known about the coprolites in southern Nevada's Gypsum Cave since the 1930s. The Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) lived in the cave at different points, from about 36,000 to 11,000 years ago, Haupt said.]