10 things you should know about sloths

The slow and steady sloth is know for taking its time about everything, but there’s more to this tree-dweller than meets the eye..

 

1. They make a weekly trip down to the ground for a toilet break

Sloths take a long time to digest food, so they only need the toilet once a week, which is a blessing in disguise. Sloths are at their most vulnerable when they are on the ground. Because they are so well adapted to life in the trees, they aren’t very skilled at walking, which makes them susceptible to ambush from jaguars, eagles, and snakes.

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Sloths can’t walk very well, so they drag themselves along the floor

 

2. Their sight and hearing aren’t too good

Although they do have the ability to see in colour, their eyesight generally isn’t too great. Many animals with poor eyesight rely on hearing, but the sloth’s hearing isn’t very acute either. Instead they use their sense of touch to feel their way around the treetops.

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Sloths are heavily reliant on their sense of touch to move around their environment

 

3. Their stomachs are always full

They have a strong stomach to digest the chemicals found in all the plants and leaves they consume. The foliage is digested extremely slowly and a meal may take up to a week to digest, meaning their stomach is always full (and accounts for 30% of their body weight!).

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A typical diet consists of leaves, twigs, fruits, and sometimes insects

 

4. They have an unusual natural talent for swimming

Sometimes they drop intentionally into a moving body of water below their tree. Because they are so skilled at front crawl, it lets them move easily and quickly through the forest should they need to escape danger.

 

 

5. A vice-like grip

Their grip is so strong that sloths have been found still clinging to branches after they have died. Sloths can do most things while they hang upside down including sleeping, eating and mating. They can even give birth upside down!

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6. They sometimes wear a green coat

A symbiotic relationship with algae sometimes gives sloths a green-tinge. It’s beneficial for both parties; the algae gets somewhere warm to grow, and the sloth gets to camouflage with the trees and hopefully avoid being eaten.

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Algae is what gives sloths their green-tinged appearance

 

7. They are nocturnal

Two-toed sloths are completely nocturnal and do most of their moving around and eating during the night. Three-toed sloths aren’t strictly nocturnal, but they are largely inactive in the day. They spend the day time hours sleeping, and can sleep for up to 15 hours.

There's also a baby sloth somewhere in that tree.
Both three-toed and two-toed sloths are most active during the night

 

8. They are pregnant for 10 months and only have one baby a year

They are able to have one baby every year, in theory, but their slow movement sometimes means that females don’t come across a male in over a year. When they do find a male and eventually give birth, the baby sloths cling on to the fur on their mother’s underbelly. They do fall off from time to time but it’s very rare for a sloth to injure itself from a fall. If they are injured, it’s usually because a mother won’t risk a trip to the ground to retrieve their fallen young.

 

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Baby sloths usually need to be rescued when their mother has been poached, or when they have been abandoned

 

9. Toes are important 

There are six sloth species split into two categories based on the number of toes (or claws) that they have: three toed sloths (Bradypodidae) and two toed sloths (Megalonychidae). These two groups have been found to be so distinct that they are considered separate families.

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10. They have more vertebrae than a giraffe 

Most mammals, humans, whales, and giraffes included, have seven neck vertebrae. The three-toed sloth has eight or nine, allowing them to swivel their heads through an almost 360° arc.

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To find out more about sloths see our feature in issue 31 – on sale now!

Sloths

 

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Photographs: Christian Mehlführer, User:Chmehl (Own work)Ken Mayer,Michelle CallahannaturalismusRoy LuckHarvey BarrisonDave GingrichKenneth LuJenny Jozwiak 

 

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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje