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Fun Facts About Sloths

A three-toed sloth can rotate its head nearly 90 degrees or more, and its mouth is shaped in a way that makes the animal appear as if it's always smiling.
Credit: Bryson Voirin.

Known for being a sedentary tree-dwelling mammal, the sloth rarely moves at all spending much of its day hanging upside-down from tree limbs. The animal is so lethargic that its fur is often host to small moths, beetles and even algae. The algae coats the sloth’s brown, white or black fur with a greenish tinge camouflaging it against predators in the forest.

Sloths spend most of their time sleeping and eating in the tropical rainforests of South and Central America. Their main source of nutrition is leaves, twigs and fruit. This diet leaves a sloth with very little energy to move around, a low metabolism and low body temperature.

 

Compared to most mammals, a sloth moves very slowly.  Sloths can climb only 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) per minute. They grasp tree limbs with their sharp claws, which can be 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters) long.  There are four species of these animals, two of the most recognizable are the two-toed and three-toed sloths.

Other facts about sloths

sloth, lianas, woody vines, kudzu, tropical forests, tropical rainforests, amazon, invasive species
A three-toed sloth climbs a liana to the forest canopy. Lianas provide critical connections among trees to allow arboreal animals to move from tree to tree.
Credit: Stefan Schnitzer.

Sloths have very little muscle mass but are able to grasp onto trees firmly with their claws. Dead sloths have even been known to remain clinging to a tree limb.

The creatures spend as much as 20 hours a day sleeping while hanging from a tree limb or curled up near a branch.

Sloths have a four-part stomach that slowly digests the tough leaves they eat. It can sometimes take up to a month for a sloth to digest a meal.

Thousands of years ago, very large sloths lived on the ground in North America. Their fossils tell us some were as large as elephants, had claws and ate leaves much like present-day sloths.

A sloth at the edge of a forest in the Amazon.
A sloth at the edge of a forest in the Amazon.
Credit: Image courtesy of Robert Ewers

Sloths have adapted to living in trees so well they even mate while hanging from branches.

Sloths mainly leave their tree to urinate or defecate about once a week. Leaving the tree makes them vulnerable to predators like the eagle or jaguar.

A sloth only has its claws for defense against predators. However, its very low level of movement and the camouflage make it difficult to notice.

Sloths are excellent swimmers. They sometimes will drop from a tree limb into water and use their long arms to swim with broad strokes.

Other resources:

San Diego Zoo - Two-Toed Sloth

National Geographic - Two-Toed Sloth

National Geographic- Three-Toed Sloth

BBC Nature - Three-toed sloth

Smithsonian National Zoological Park - Sloth

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