A long time ago, before football loved guacamole and influencers loved avocado toast, giant ground sloths and avocados had a special relationship of their own.
We’re talking a long time ago, before humans even appeared on the scene — approximately 66 million years ago, during the early Cenozoic era.
In those days, wild avocado trees were already blossoming across the Americas, and enormous, prehistoric creatures roamed the ancient earth. Among these creatures was the original avo-holic: the giant ground sloth. These two-ton megafauna snacked on avocados for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which was an important part of keeping avocados around long enough for us to enjoy too.
Prehistoric avocados had a different pit-to-flesh ratio than today’s avocados. Thanks to years of modern agriculture, Avocados From Mexico are mostly the creamy green parts that we love and eat. Way back when, avocados were more … hardcore. That is to say, they were mostly seed and less creamy green flesh. As a consequence, smaller animals couldn’t swallow avocados whole. Giant ground sloths, on the other hand, nearly inhaled them.
Eating avocados whole meant the seed stayed intact throughout their digestive system. (This is the important part.) The giant ground sloths then traveled great distances, depositing the undigested avocado seeds behind them along the way. These seeds would grow into new plants many miles away from their origin, with plenty of space to grow without other competing avocado trees nearby. Now that’s an example of symbiosis your science teacher would be proud of.
In a sense, giant prehistoric ground sloths were the “Johnny Avo-seeds” of the Americas.
Sadly, the giant ground sloth went extinct during the Ice Age around 10,000 years ago, along with 68% of the other megafauna species in North America. No avocado popsicles for them, unfortunately. But they left humanity with a precious gift: avocado trees!
This leaves scientists with an unsolved puzzle. Smaller animals could not eat avocados whole. In fact, there are no known animals that eat avocado today. (PSA: Don’t give avocados to your pets!) So how did our favorite fruit survive between the extinction of the giant ground sloth and when humans first discovered avocado 10,000 years ago? The truth is scientists haven’t the slightest idea.
It’s no mystery, however, that the legacy left behind (literally) by the giant prehistoric ground sloth has provided us with a fruit containing good fats and nearly 20 vitamins and minerals that we can enjoy all year long in all kinds of delicious recipes.
So raise a toast to giant ground sloths and avocados for making guacamole possible today!
Learn more about the avocado’s fascinating history.