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The Sloth

The Sloth

The Sloth. Although sloths enjoy the distinction of being the world’s slowest mammal, they are expert tree climbers and skilled swimmers.

The sloth is famous for its curious tree-hanging behavior and its incredibly slow lifestyle.

Although sloths enjoy the distinction of being the world’s slowest mammal, they are expert tree climbers and skilled swimmers. These tree-dwelling masters of “taking it easy” inhabit warm wooded regions of Central and South America, including Bolivia.

Sloths spend most of the daytime in inverted meditative stillness, using their strong curved claws to suspend from tree limbs. Observers have long assumed that the animals spend most of those hanging hours lost in deep slumber; however recent research reveals that they only sleep a little over nine hours per day. It seems that the motionless sloth is consciously defending itself from much faster predators (particularly the agile and airborne eagle), effectively passing itself off as an inanimate fixture of the landscape. The sloth also welcomes green algae to reside in its furry coat, which hosts moths, other insects and fungi, resulting in a natural green covering that makes for convincing camouflage.

Sloths can engage in a surprising variety of activities while hanging from trees: sleeping, eating, and even giving birth all happen within the comfortable safety of treetops. Sloths may continue locked in a peaceful hanging position after they have died. They tend to prefer leading solitary lives and give birth about once a year to one baby at a time. Baby sloths hang onto moms for about nine months; when baby is weaned, mom promptly passes her territory to baby and sets off to find a new living space. They live for about 25 to 30 years.

There are two toed and three toed sloths, the three toed variety has a tail and is a little bigger and faster, growing to just under half a meter in length. While its tough claws and powerful grip allow the animal to effortlessly hang from trees, these qualities do not facilitate land mobility. The claws get in the way, and they cannot walk on all fours. Clumsy walking skills and already slow movement help explain why sloths spend such little time on the ground, not only is it awkward, it is also when they are most vulnerable. Fortunately, leaves make up their main source of food, something they can quietly munch on without having to leave the tree branch they have selected to hang from.

Sloths have large, slow-performing stomachs that can take over a month to digest the tough leaves of its diet. Its separate stomach compartments resemble those of the cow. They are related however to anteaters and armadillos, and interestingly, the similar three toed and two toed types seem only distantly related, each having adapted to tree life independently. While the slow moving survival methods employed by both genera are practical and highly efficient for defending themselves from predators, the loss of habitat caused by human activity poses the biggest threat to sloths. Power lines can also pose a threat.

The sloths’ unique and endearing behavior and adorable appearance seems to have quickly made the intriguing animal a pop culture phenomenon. Sloth videos and articles abound on the internet and Google trend charts indicate users are increasingly fascinated with the furry creatures, the laid back attitude of which may remind stressed out humans the beauty of leading a slower paced life.