Hapalops, a smaller-sized and early sloth of the Megatheroidea, appeared in the middle Miocene Santa Cruz formation of Argentina. This genus is part of the group from which later, larger megatheroids arose, i.e., Nothrotheriops and Megatherium. Many cranial characters support this idea; however Hapalops is not merely a smaller antecedent of the later forms. Specifically, Hapalops retains short anterior caniniform teeth, and a temporomandibular joint elevated above the cheek tooth row; a combination distinct among sloths. An elevated temporomandibular joint occurs in Bradypus, a tree sloth with anterior chisel-shaped teeth instead of caniniforms, and the tree sloth Choloepus, which is aligned with the megalonychids, has anterior caniniforms. Hapalops has an elongated zygomatic ascending process that is reminiscent of that in Bradypus; however, the Bradypus skull is extremely foreshortened while that of Hapalops is elongated, as in nothrotheres, but not deepened as in megatheres. Previous work identified many sloth cranial character complexes, and functional limitations on skull feature combinations. The unique Hapalops character patterns indicate a selective feeder with a mediolaterally oriented grinding stroke during mastication.
Naples, Virginia L and McAfee, Robert, "Chewing Through the Miocene: An Examination of the Feeding Musculature in the Ground Sloth Hapalops from South America (Mammalia: Pilosa)" (2014). PCOM Scholarly Papers. 1844.