An Ultimate Guide to Glyptodon: The Carved Tooth

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 24th September 2023

Name MeaningCarved ToothHeight1.5 meters (4.9 ft.)
PronunciationGlip-toe-donLength2 to 3.3 meters (6.56 to 11 ft.)
EraCenozoic – Quaternary PeriodWeight1,995 kgs. (4,400 lbs)
ClassificationXenarthra, Cingulata, & ChlamyphoridaeLocationSouth America

Glyptodon Pictures

An artistic illustration of Glyptodon
An artistic illustration of Glyptodon | Coyau via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The Glyptodon

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Glyptodon Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Glyptodon Concept

South America is filled with a plethora of plants and animals, and throughout earth’s history the region has consistently been one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

Today you can find a variety of animals that are unique, but during the Pliocene to the Pleistocene period giant megafauna like Glyptodon were abundant.

Glyptodon is a member of the Chlamyphoridae family, and are related to other South American armadillos. 

Their fossils have been found as early as 1814, and this genus was described in 1839.

Glyptodons had many similarities to the armadillos alive today, but were much larger, and reached the size of a small car. 

A typical Glyptodon was about the size of a small car
A typical Glyptodon was about the size of a small car | Alexandra 924 via Ideas Wiki

These large and heavily armored armadillos lived at a time where megafauna were widespread around the globe, and their size was needed to help fend off fierce giants.

This article will cover the Glyptodon, and what paleontologists have managed to learn about these ancient armadillos. 

Animals like Gylptodon lived much sooner than other ancient creatures like dinosaurs, but hold just as many mysteries and showcase how amazing animals evolved to be. 

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

Glyptodon had a body similar to a tortoise, and also had armor covering them that looked similar to the shell of a tortoise. 

Unlike turtles, Glyptodon could not hide within their shells, but had a bony cap that helped protect their head. 

Glyptodon’s carapace was made up of hexagonal osteoderms, with their shell being made up of around 1,800 of them in total.

The shell of Glyptodon  was around 1.5 meters (5 ft.) in length.

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Glyptodon Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Glyptodon Size Comparison Chart

The weight and size of Glyptodon varied depending on the species. 

Glyptodons weighed between 400 kgs. (880 lbs.), to 2,000 kgs (4,400 lbs).

They reached between 2 meters (6.56 ft.) to 3.3 meters (11 ft.) in length. 

The giant shells of Glyptodon were their most identifiable trait, and these animals had large heads, and walked on all fours like modern armadillos. 

These animals had a short tail, which was robust, helped them keep their balance, and was covered in hard armor. 

Not only were Glyptodon very heavy and large, but they had a height of around 1.5 meters (4.9 ft).

Being a mammal, Glyptodons would have likely been covered in hair, which would have appeared around their face, legs, and shells. 

Artist restoration of Glyptodon showcasing its hairy features
Artist restoration of Glyptodon showcasing its hairy features | Lord of the Lizard Eaters via Dinopedia

Habitat and Distribution

Glyptodon was a common species that lived in South America in the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs around 5.3 million to 11,700 years ago.

In South America Glyptodon had a large range from the lowland Pampas, to the Andean Mountains in Peru and Bolivia.

The habitats and environment that Gylptodon lived in varied from mountainous regions, grasslands, to moist and humid forested habitats with seasonal rainfall. 

Some of the regions where Gylptodon lived like the Pampas changed climates regularly at the time from very dry, to semi-humid.

Where Glyptodon lived in South America at the time there was an average temperature of around 4.2 °C (39.6 °F), but the drastic changes in environment suggested they were very adaptable.

In South America Glyptodons had a range that covered modern Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Colombia.

Glyptodon species like G. jatunkhirkhi that lived near the Andean mountains evolved to be smaller, since the area did not have as many resources for large life.

While in the past fossils found in North America were assigned to Glyptodon, they have been reassigned to a close relative also a part of the Glyptodontidae subfamily, Glyptotherium

Collected Glyptodon fossil at Zoological Museum, Copenhagen
Collected Glyptodon fossil at Zoological Museum, Copenhagen |
via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Glyptodon only lived in South America, but their relatives traveled to North America, living in what is now Mexico, and the southwestern United States.

Behavior and Diet

Being large in size Glyptodon needed to eat a lot, and their diet consisted of plants that they found while grazing.

The large muzzle of Glyptodon allowed them to feed in bulk, and they gained their nutrients from eating various plants. 

The jaws of Glyptodons had big ridges which were used to grind, and shear food, and fossils suggest they had large tongues which helped them intake large amounts of food.

Teeth, with the distinct hypdodonty of glyptodontines
Teeth, with the distinct hypdodonty of glyptodontines | Ghedo via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

While armadillos today are omnivores that eat meat, and carrion, Glyptodon’s diet consisted of only plants, and they had the stomachs of herbivores. 

Analysis of Glyptodons isotopes have given some insight into what types of plants these animals ate.

Some theories suggest Glyptodon was an aquatic grazer, but they also likely ate grasses, flowering plants, and other foods.

The diet of Glyptodon is now believed to be more diverse that what was previously thought, but their bodies made it only possible for them to forage for food close to the ground. 

While there’s still lots to learn about the Glyptodon diet, more studies into their fossils can help clarify what these giants ate. 

In the future it may be discovered Glyptodon ate insects and meat like modern armadillos, but they are considered herbivores for now.

Life Cycle

Glyptodon lived from the Pliocene, to the Pleistocene epochs, and as these animals existed they evolved to better fit into their environments. 

Glyptodon's size greatly affected both fauna and floral life around it
Glyptodon’s size greatly affected both fauna and floral life around it | Bacner via Dinopedia

These giant armadillos only went extinct around 11,000 years ago, and it was shortly after the arrival of humans to the Americas. 

Humans probably played a key role in the extinction of Glyptodon, as they were hunted for their shells. 

The lifespan of Glyptodon is estimated at around 60 years.

 The examination of fossil evidence suggests there were no sexual dimorphic traits between males and females. 

Glyptotherium, which is a North American relative of Glyptodon, showcased sexual dimorphic traits by males having more conical and concave osteoderms, but this is not seen in Glyptodon.

There is still much to learn about the reproduction cycle of Glyptodon, but they could have had similarities with armadillos. 

Armadillos are solitary animals, which come together yearly to breed, and give birth to multiple young.

A solitary Glyptodon in a forest in what is now known as South America
A solitary Glyptodon in a forest in what is now known as South America | Daniel Eskridge via GettyImages

There is evidence suggesting that Glpytodon was territorial, and they likely fought with each other for the right to mate. 

Glyptodon is still a mysterious species, with much of their life cycle being relatively unknown, like how quickly they grew.

Evolution and History

From its discovery in the early 1800s, Glyptodon has been a confusing, yet fascinating genus. 

The first finding of Glyptodon occurred in 1814, which was a carapace fragment, femur, and part of a tail.

It was only until the 1839s, was Glyptodon created as a genus, done so by Richard Owen.

Richard Owen's 1838 reconstruction of a Glyptodon skeleton; with the namesake tooth on the right
Richard Owen’s 1838 reconstruction of a Glyptodon skeleton; with the namesake tooth on the right | Image via Wikipedia Public Domain

The species G. clavipes was created as the type species, and other species that have been named include:

  • G. elongatus
  • G. jatunkhirhi
  • G. munizi
  • G. reticulatus

There have been several genus named which are now not valid, or are now considered synonyms of Glyptodon.

In the past Glyptodon has been constantly confused with other genera, and misidentified from their fossils. 

Glyptodon’s lineage stems from around 35 million years ago, which is when they began to diverge from Chlamyphorinae. 

These animals gained many evolutionary traits to survive with other large megafauna like their giant shells, armored body, and strong whip-like tails.

Sideview of Glyptodon showcasing its armored body and spiked tail
Sideview of Glyptodon showcasing its armored body and spiked tail | Corey Ford via GettyImages

The species of Glyptodon varied based on what region they lived in, as they evolved to live across various types of habitats in South America from wetlands, to deserts. 

Interactions with Other Species

Glyptodon was an important animal in its habitat, as its large size made them a valuable food source for the large predatory megafauna they lived with. 

Once humans arrived in the Americas they became the main predator of Glyptodon

Humans hunting Glyptodon
Humans hunting Glyptodon | Heinrich Harder via Wikipedia Public Domain

Animals like the Smilodon, the giant short-faced bear, jaguars, Protocyon, and other giant predators preyed on Glyptodon thousands of years before humans came. 

Living with such dangerous animals Glyptodon evolved to be very large, which would help increase their chances of survival. 

Their size did not come with any downfalls though, as it likely made them slower, and easier to hunt. 

The skull of Glyptodon is where predators attacked them, but there have been fossils found with cracks in their shells suggesting animals could have broken their armor. 

Skull of Glyptodon in side view.
Skull of Glyptodon in side view | Kevin Walsh via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

While there were lots of predators that could have preyed on Glyptodon, these animals were mostly preyed on when they were young. 

The size and where Glyptodon lived made them less vulnerable to other animals, and it was more rare for this species to be regularly attacked. 

It is likely some of the fiercest predators in South America like terror birds attacked and ate Glyptodon, but their large shells and size helped protect them from most animals. 

Cultural Significance

Glyptodon has been an important discovery in learning about the Glyptodontinae subfamily, and they are the type species for this extinct family. 

These animals have helped paleontologists understand how Glyptodonts evolved  in South America, and expanded their range until their extinction.

Glyptodon has been studied for hundreds of years, and this species is also evidence of the Great American Interchange of animals that occurred. 

This dinosaur sized armadillo is the face of the Pliocene and Pleistocene period in the Americas, and has been showcased in movies like Ice Age, and games about ancient animals like Jurassic Park.

A herd of Glyptodon as seen in Ice Age movie
A herd of Glyptodon as seen in Ice Age movie | Julian Andres Rojas via Ice Age Wiki

The fossils of Glyptodon have been essential in learning how humans interacted with megafauna from the Pleistocene period, and there has been evidence showing humans hunted, and used the parts of this giant.

Glyptodon skeleton and shell in Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
Glyptodon skeleton and shell in Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin | Dellex via Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

There is still lots to learn about Glyptodon, and there many discoveries have helped further the knowledge on Pliocene animals overall. 


In South America there lived lots of life like Glyptodon, which are now extinct, but showcase the amazing animals the region once housed.

Glyptodons were massive, and resembled the smaller armadillos we see today, but had many differences. 

The large shells of this mammal helped protect them from predators, but their tails were also used similar to Ankylosaurians.

There have been several fossils of Glyptodon discovered, but there has still been much that has been misinterpreted about this animal in the past. 

It has been around 11,000 years since Glyptodon went extinct, which is very recent when compared with some animals like the dinosaurs. 

Along with humans, there were other animals, and plants that existed in South America with Glyptodon that are very similar to the life we see today.

Animals like Glyptodon showcase how species can evolve overtime, as they diverged from modern armadillos around 35 million years ago. 


Was Glyptodon a good digger?

Modern armadillos are adept diggers since they use this ability to dig out insects from the ground, but it is not believed Gylptodon were good diggers, since their diet mainly consisted of plant-life, and their claws were not very large.

How did Glyptodons use their tails?

The tail of Glyptodon was its most powerful defense tool, and it is believed their armored tails would have been able to break the shells of other Gylptodons. 

Gylptodon’s tails were likely used similarly how Ankylosaurians used their tails, like a whip.

Fighting for territories, and mates like deers do with their antlers were likely the main way Glyptodons used their tails. 

Could Gylptodon roll into a ball?

Modern armadillos are able to roll into a ball to defend themselves, but since Glyptodons had fused carapaces they did not have this ability.

The large shell, armor on its body, and clubbed tail is how Glyptodon defended itself, along with their giant size. 

Even in modern species, only a few species are actually able to roll completely into a ball to protect themselves. 


Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: