Sloth

The sloth is an arboreal mammal, mostly known for its slow movement. These animals are often spotted upside down on the branches of certain trees. Due to their sluggish movements, they remain immobile most of the time.

Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Pilosa

Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Mammalia
Pilosa

The slowness of these creatures is quite notable, with their name being synonymous with laziness in several languages. This passive nature can be attributed to the animals’ slow metabolic rate, which causes them to perform all their activities at lackluster speeds. These include feeding, digestion, movement, and finding a mate.

List of the Common Types of Sloth Species

Currently, there are only six extant species of sloth available globally. These are divided into two families – the three-toed and two-toed sloths.

Three-toed sloths

  • Pygmy Three-toed Sloth
  • Maned Three-toed Sloth
  • Pale-throated Three-toed Sloth
  • Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

Two-toed sloths

  • Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth
  • Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth

Sloth

Physical Description and Appearance

Size:

Length: 24 to 31 in (60 to 80 cm)

Weight: 7.9 to 17.0 lb (3.6 to 7.7 kg)

Body and Coloration: The sloth is characterized by its long limbs, with a set of claws on each limb. They have rounded heads with small ears and facial coloring that gives them a constantly smiling appearance.

Sloths can have brown, black, or gray fur, though their bodies are covered with algae in most species.

Where are they found

These arboreal animals are found throughout Central and South America, with some specimens observed in Brazil and Peru.

Habitat

Sloths seem capable of thriving only in tropical rainforests.

Sloth Habitat
Sloth Animal

How long do they live

Two-toed sloths live for around 20 years, while three-toed sloths live a bit longer at 25-30 years.

What do they eat

The three-toed sloths are herbivores, feeding entirely on buds, leaves, fruits, and shoots. However, the two-toed sloths are omnivorous, consuming insects, carrion, and small lizards alongside plant material.

Due to their slow digestive system and metabolic rate, some sloths take over a month to digest their food.

Behavior

  • One can observe sloths moving through trees at a languid pace, spending most of their day hanging upside down from tree branches. They only move if necessary.
  • They will climb down from their trees to defecate in a particular spot every time despite the high risk of predation. Why it does so remains a mystery, with a recent theory positing that the sloths have not evolved beyond the need to do so due to predation rarely occurring during defecation.
  • These animals are solitary, though sometimes the females are seen congregating.
  • Despite common assumptions, sloths spend only 8-10 hours a day sleeping. The reputation of these animals for always sleeping comes from specimens in captivity that do not worry about food or predation, thus spending 20 hours a day sleeping.
  • They are excellent swimmers, using their long forelimbs to paddle in the water. Sloths reach speeds of 13.5 m per minute while swimming and have been observed crossing rivers and traveling between islands.
  • Sloths are nocturnal, resting throughout the day and doing other activities like feeding at night.
  • These animals have a mutualistic relationship with certain moths, called sloth moths. The moth lives inside their fur and promotes algae growth while also laying eggs inside the sloth’s droppings.
Picture of Sloth
Sloth Image

Predators

While certain predators like jaguars, ocelots, and eagles may hunt sloths, they are less likely to be attacked due to their slow-moving nature and camouflage.

Adaptations

  • Their claws are strong enough to allow them to hang upside down for long periods by locking the sloth in a single position.
  • As a result of green algae growing in their fur, the sloth is perfectly camouflaged in the canopy of trees.
  • While underwater, they can slow their heart rate to a third of the standard, allowing them to hold their breath for 40 minutes.

How do they reproduce

The three-toed sloths generally mate from late summer to early fall, while the two-toed sloths breed year-round. A female sloth will emit a shrill, monotonous cry when she is in heat to alert males. If more than one suitor responds, they will batter and swipe at each other until only one stays behind.

Sloth Picture
Baby Sloth

Life Cycle

While the gestation period varies from species to species, it is pretty long -with six months required for the three-toed specimens and around a year for two-toed ones. A single baby sloth is born at a time, which will cling to its mother for a period ranging from 6 weeks to 5 months. The little sloth will stay close to its mother for 2-4 years afterward, learning which types of food to eat by licking the tips of her fingers.

Females tend to mature more quickly at around 3 years than the males in most species, which do so at 4-5 years. The inverse is only seen in the pale-throated three-toed sloth.

Conservation

Most species of sloths are classified as “Least Concern” or “LC”. However, the maned three-toed sloth is classified as “Vulnerable” or “VU” due to habitat loss and excessive hunting, while the pygmy three-toed sloth is “Critically Endangered” or “CR” as a result of a population bottleneck.

Sloths– FAQs

1. What sound does a sloth make?

Adults rarely make noises outside of females wanting to mate; however, baby sloths make an adorable squeal to communicate.

2. Is a sloth a monkey?

While sloths resemble monkeys due to their long arms and fur all over their bodies, they are more closely related to armadillos, anteaters, and pangolins.

3. How fast can a sloth move?

Not very fast, as even when threatened, a sloth can only reach a maximum speed of 0.17 mph.

4. How does a sloth defend itself?

If attacked, sloths can use their 3-4 inch long claws as well as their teeth to defend themselves.

5. Can a sloth jump?

Even though they might possess the body strength to do so, they lack the speed necessary to jump.

Sloth Ears
Sloth Teeth

Interesting Facts

  • Modern sloths used to have a much larger relative in the form of the ground sloth – large mammals with huge claws. They are believed to have become extinct as a result of overhunting by early man.
  • October 20th is celebrated as International Sloth Day. This was started by AIUNAU, an animal conservation organization in Colombia.
  • In popular culture, the most famous sloth is probably the animated character Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age series of movies.