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The Sloth - 75 Interesting Facts You Didn't Know

 

      What is a sloth and why are they so slow? Sloths are very unique mammals found hanging in the treetops of the Central and South Americas. Every movement they make takes a much longer time than you would see in a typical mammal. It is almost as if they are moving through molasses. But it’s not because they are lazy, rather, it is an adaptation for both energy conservation as well as a stealthy way of survival. With predators such as the harpy eagle, jaguar and snake, one of their only of defenses is to hide. And hide well they do. It is rare for one of these sharp eyed predators to catch a sloth while scouting the jungle. And while sloths may be hard to spot, many have been studied by research scientists. In light of current studies, here is a list of 75 sloth facts you may not have otherwise known. 

 


  1. Sloths have long arms and long fur. [6]
  2. The three toed sloth is the only animal that persistently smiles. [1]
  3. Back in the 1400’s sloths were originally thought to be dumb and useless. As the Spanish conquistador Oviedo once said, “I have never seen such an ugly animal or one that is more useless.” Of course Oviedo was only observing the sloth walking on the ground. Had he observed it in the trees it may have been a slightly different statement. [2]
  4. Sloths have curved hook-like claws approximately 3-4” long. [3] This makes hanging from trees a breeze!  
  5. A baby sloth is called a pup. [4]
  6. Sloths have survived from their tough hides, strong grip and ability to quickly heal. [1]
  7. Sloths are ectothermic. This means they regulate their body heat from their external environment such as basking in the sunlight. [1]
  8. A sloths body temperature varies within a range of 12 degrees. [1] 
  9. Sloths have poor eye site because they lack the muscles to focus their eyes/lenses. [1]
  10. Instead, sloths rely heavily on their sense of smell to find the right foods [1]
  11. Another use of the sloth’s keen sense of smell is to spot out rotten branches to avoid when swinging high in the trees. [1]
  12. Sloths have a top speed of 0.93mph. [2]
  13. Sloths have mainly retractor muscles (the pull muscles). This allows them to spend less energy and hang for longer periods of time. [2]
  14. Sloths can clasp a vertical trunk with their hind legs and lean back 90 degrees. Impressive! [2]
  15. There are two categories of sloths, 2-toed sloths and 3-toed sloths. The two are as genetically different as cats and dogs. [2]
  16. There are 6 species of sloths: 
    1. Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)
    2. Maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus)
    3. Pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus)
    4. Brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
    5. Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus)
    6. Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) [5]
  17. Contrary to intuition, the two toed sloth actually has 3 toes. It is its fingers that it differs in number in which it has 2. 
  18. Sloths are members of the superorder Xenorthra along with anteaters and armadillos. Xenorthra means “strange joints” because they have a flexible spine. [2]
  19. Sloths have been around for 64 million years! [2]
  20. Only the pygmy and maned sloths are considered to be endangered. [2]
  21. This is because much of their habitat has been destroyed. [7]
  22. Pygmy sloths are found on an island off of Panama. They eat leaves that have a property similar to Valium - If they looked stoned it’s because they are. [2]
  23. Sloths only consume about 160 calories a day. [2]
  24. Sloths have a stomach much like a cow but without the regurgitation. One study showed that it can take a sloth up to 50 days to digest their food. [2]
  25. One scientific survey from the 1970s found that sloths account for almost a quarter of the mammalian biomass and “are the most numerically abundant large mammal”. [2]
  26. Fur parts in the middle of their tummy allowing for rain to easily run off when hanging upside down. [2]
  27. The sloth’s stomach can sometimes account for ⅓ of their body weight. [2]
  28. Sloths have a core temperature of 82-90 degrees Fahrenheit. [2] 
  29. Sloths have a thick coat of fur “worthy of an arctic animal” yet they live in the tropical rainforests. [2]
  30. Sloths can hold their breath for 40 minutes under water. [2]
  31. Sloths have the most vertebrae of any mammal (even a giraffe) and can turn their head 270°. [2]
  32. Sloths are said to sleep 15-20 hours a day, however, recent studies have shown that they only sleep 9.6 hours a day when in the wild. [2]
  33. Sloths have extremely slow metabolisms. [2]
  34. Sloths are excellent swimmers. If you were to flip them on their back they would also be able to perform a backstroke. [2]
  35. Their digestive system produces an excess amount of gas causing them to float in water. [2]
  36. A sloths fur hosts 80 different species of algae and fungi as well as a variety of insects. [2]
  37. Sloths do not react to loud jarring noises. This is yet another adaptation for stealth. [2]
  38. When a female sloth is in her window of fertility, she will let out a piercing scream (in D# to be exact) that can be heard from miles away. [2]
  39. This scream by the female happens to mimic the kiskadee flycatcher bird. This is advantageous for stealth so predators are unaware of their whereabouts. [2]
  40.  Despite sloths being the slowest mammal, it only takes a matter of seconds for them to mate. [2]   
  41. Sloths defecate at the base of a tree every 5-8 days. They will dig a small little hole with their tale and then cover it with leaves. [2]
  42. When a sloth travels down their tree to defecate, they become very vulnerable. In fact, half of sloth deaths occur when they are in the process to defecate. [2]
  43. The fact that sloths defecate in the same spot remains a mystery. Some argue it is for locating each other for mating, others argue that it is to stimulate a process for a source of food in which moths feed off of the dung that in turn aerate their fur for growth of algae. [2]
  44. Two-toed sloths tend to be a little meaner than three toed. If you try to pet them they may hiss with their sharp fangs. [2]
  45. While a 3 toed sloth seemingly smiles, a 2 toed sloth looks like a “cross between a wookie and a pig”. [2]
  46. A sloth may stay in the same tree for years. [6]
  47. Sometimes sloths eat small insects or even lizards! [6]
  48. A baby sloth can live with its mother up to 4 years. [6]
  49. In the first 5-10 months, the baby sloth will stay attached to its mother at all times. [7]
  50. Many babies are stripped from their mothers and sold illegally, then sold to tourists. [7]
  51. Many baby sloths die without their mothers. [7]
  52. The Pygmy sloth has been referred to as the “monk” sloth because of the cowl on its head. [7]
  53. Tourism developments encroach on sloth rainforests in Costa Rica. [7]
  54. Sloths are threatened by new roads, powerlines, and even kids throwing rocks at them. [7]
  55. A flower extract can calm “rattled” nerves when sloths are first rescued since they typically come into a sanctuary traumatized. [7]
  56. A typical two-toed sloth while in rehab may have a diet of hard boiled eggs, carrots, green beans and chayote vegetables. [7] 
  57. A male sloth can be identified by the bright patch on their back. [7]
  58. Male sloths actively patrol the borders of their territory. [7]
  59. The average territory is approximately 50 acres in size. [7]
  60. Combat is rare among males. The mere presence is usually enough to ward away the other incoming sloth. [7]
  61. A male sloth typically has 3 females as well and keeps a loose hair on them. [7]
  62. 2-toed sloths have an active nightlife. [7]
  63. Sloths mate in the same way primates do.. Just upside down. [7]
  64. Many sloths have moved from deforested areas to plantations over the years. [7]
  65. Pygmy sloths are listed as “critically” endangered with a population of just 100. [7]
  66. Sloths are part of the order xenarthra where they have strong backbones and no front teeth. [3]
  67. Sloths may climb up higher in trees when the sun is out in order to warm up. [3]
  68. A two-toed sloth has fewer neck bones, no tail and are bigger/heavier while three-toed sloths have longer necks and a short tail. [3]
  69. A sloth's fur grows from its stomach to its back. [3]
  70. Most are 2 feet long from nose to tail. [3]
  71. Many hunters do not bother with sloths because they continue to hang even after death. [3]
  72. Sloths like to sleep in coconut palms where they look like large coconuts. [3]
  73. Many live in cecropia trees. [3]
  74. When a sloth eats leaves, it uses its tongue to wrap around the leaf and then yank it off. [3]
  75. They then chew the leaves with the back of their teeth. [3]

So there you have it! 75 sloth facts that you can now impress your friends and family with. They will see you as the sloth expert! Please leave a comment of your favorite sloth fact and if you can think of another please share! 





Sources:
  1. Ledbetter, J. (Director). (2006). Hanging With The Sloth [Motion picture on DVD]. Perezoso Production.
  2. Cooke, L (2018) The Truth About Animals. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group
  3. Miller, S. S. (2008). Sloths. New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group.
  4. Schuetz, K. (2014). Baby sloths. Minneapolis, MN: Bellwether Media.
  5. Sloth. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/sloth
  6. Bader, B. (2016). Slow, slow sloths. NY, NY: Penguin Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
  7. BelugaSmile Productions and THIRTEEN Productions LLC. (2014). A Sloth Named Velcro.

2 comments

  • Terrific article!

    Thomas Dargan
  • Thank u for sharing , I love Sloth’s they so cute . It was very interesting to read about them . They beautiful and unique 😍

    Sylvia Lee

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