Description and interpretation of Cenozoic vertebrate ichnofossils in Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil
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In the neighborhood of the city of Boqueirão do Leão (State of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) a set of three big-sized tunnels has been found. One of the tunnels is only partially filled with sand and accessible along its entire length. It is horizontal, slightly sinuous, 36 m long, up to 4.2 m wide and up to 2.0 m high. The surface morphology of the walls is composed of anthropogenic marks, speleothems, black incrustations and traces like digging scratches and smoothed surfaces. The 2nd tunnel has its entrance blocked by sand and sandstone cobbles, but the end of the tunnel is only partially clogged and therefore accessible. This accessible portion is 12 m long, 3 m wide and 1.5 m high. The 3rd tunnel is completely filled and collapsed and is nowadays only indicated by concave roof features at its end. The general features of the tunnel system and the analysis of the surface morphology of the walls of the accessible portions permit to conclude that the tunnels were produced by ground sloths of the Cenozoic South American megafauna. The size of the tunnels suggests that its excavation was gradually carried out by successive generations of sloth herds, and not by a single individual animal. The primary function of the tunnels probably was not protection from predators, which had easy access to structures of this size, but to shelter during a drier climate. However, it is not yet possible to relate the tunnels to a specific ground sloth genus, a task that depends on the discovery of better-preserved tunnel systems. © 2013 by the Sociedade Brasileira de Paleontologia.