Date:October 21, 2020

Avocados Would Be Extinct 5,000 Years Ago if It Wasn’t for Humans and Some Giant Ground Sloths


Imagine your life without guacamole dip for your chips, or for your morning toast. Chills going down your spine, right? I feel you, buddy. But thanks to our fine taste in the food we managed to keep these creamy, nutritious fruits alive. 

The story goes way back 30,000 years ago when some giant sloths (known as Lestodons or Megafauna/Megatheriums) were around and they loved avocados just as much as us humans. They literally loved them WHOLE with flesh and pits. Because they were gigantic, elephant-sized (4.6 meters or 15 feet and weight around 2,590 kg or 2.85tons), they had no problem in swallowing the whole thing, and after the digestion process, the only piece not digested was the seed of the avocado, which it would go out the other end, with some provided “soil” from the animal, and some others were sown to keep the plant alive. And this is how these gigantic ground sloths kept avocados alive before they went extinct 13,000 years ago. Lestodon is considered an “armored mammal,” as evidenced by the bony plates found in its skin.

At the time, it was believed that both these mammals and humans used the same caves to live. Many big-seeded plants across the Americas, such as Osage oranges and honey locusts, similarly were propagated by megafauna. Until one day, there weren’t any left. Near the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age, a fluctuating climate wiped out many megafaunas. (Some survived, such as the much-bigger-than-you-think moose.) Accordingly, the ranges of many of the plants they ate also shrank. Without large creatures around, seeds simply fell to the ground and rotted.

The avocado might have only survived in a valley or two as small, obscure fruit if a new propagator hadn’t come along: us. While human hunters likely contributed to the end of the megafauna, both giant sloths and people had something in common: a love for luscious avocado. Though humans weren’t swallowing the fruits whole, they did plant them widely over South and Central America, probably giving themselves avocado hand all along the way.

The maligned avocado pit is what’s called an “evolutionary anachronism.” No sloth on today’s earth is capable of popping out such a large seed, yet the pit persists. But just as avocados adapted for megafauna, so do we adapt avocados to our needs. Dip that chips in and thank the ground sloths for pooping the seeds out, so humans could continue cultivating it.