The key to understanding the sloths slow pace is through their low metabolic rate and extremely low-energy diet. In order for the Sloth Sanctuary to develop and improve their rescue, rehabilitation and hand-rearing practices, it is essential that we have a scientific understanding of these factors. Sloths are omnivores. They may eat insects, small lizards and carrion, however, their diet consists mostly of buds, tender shoots and leaves (including leaves from the cecropia tree). It used to be thought that sloths ate mostly cecropia leaves because they were often spotted in cecropia trees. Sloths are arboreal creatures commonly found in South and Central America. Sloths are considered as the slowest mammals, and this is attributed to their meager metabolic rates. Sloths mostly feed on buds, leaves, and tender shoots. Some sloth species can also consume a vast range of insects, nestling, bird eggs, lizards, and carrion. Although sloths have an omnivorous diet and eat both plants and animals, the majority of the sloth's diet is made of leaves. Leaves contain very little energy and nutrition so the sloth has adapted to have a large and complex digestive system in order for the leaves to pass through the sloth effectively.
- CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
- ORDER: Pilosa
- FAMILY: Megalonychidae
- SPECIES:hoffmanni (Hoffman's two-toed sloth) and didactylus (Linné's two-toed sloth)
'Leaf it' to the sloth: Thousands of years ago, large ground sloths roamed the United States. They ranged in size from an average-size dog to that of an elephant. These ground sloths had long claws and ate plants. They became extinct about 10,000 years ago. Present-day sloths are much smaller, and live in trees. The anteater is their closest relative.
In a nutshell, sloths are slow-moving, nocturnal creatures that spend almost their entire life upside down in the trees. They eat, sleep, mate, and give birth from this position hanging high among the branches. Sloths are the only mammals whose hair grows in the opposite direction from the hair of other mammals. To accommodate their upside lifestyle, the hair parts in the middle of the belly and grows upward toward the back. The hair on the face points upward, too. This allows water to run off during rainstorms!
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Each strand of sloth fur has grooves that collect algae, giving sloths a greenish tint. That helps them blend into the trees they call home. The algae also provides nutrients for the sloth when nibbling on the hair during grooming. The only time sloths descend to the forest floor is to poop, which they do about once a week. To move to a new area of trees, sloths often wait for the forest to flood and then swim to their next home.
Big forest cats like jaguars and ocelots, birds of prey such as harpy eagles, and large snakes like anacondas prey upon sloths. They defend themselves with their sharp claws and teeth. And, if needed, sloths can move quickly through the trees.
If our own body temperature changes more than five degrees, it means we are sick! The two-toed sloth is different. It has the lowest and most variable body temperature of any mammal, ranging from 74 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 33 degrees Celsius). If there is a long period of cool, rainy weather, a nursing female can get too cold. This causes the bacteria in her stomach to stop working, so the mother can no longer digest her food. The young continues to nurse as its mother starves to death. This chilling phenomenon is called cold-weather orphan syndrome, as sometimes the youngster falls to the ground and needs to be rescued by humans.
Sloths live in trees in the tropical and cloud forests of Central and South America. Their curved, sharp claws are 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters) long. These claws are handy for hanging onto tree branches but make walking on the ground awkward. Yet sloths are great swimmers and can drop from a tree into a river to swim across it while doing the breaststroke! When sleeping, sloths often curl up in a ball in the fork of a tree.
With a muscle mass of only 25 percent (most mammals have twice as much), sloths can’t shiver when it’s cold. But they weigh much less than other animals their size, which is helpful for life in the trees. Sloths can grab the leaves and shoots on high, narrow branches that other animals can’t reach. Two-toed sloths have two toes with claws on the front feet and three toes on the back feet, used to hang upside down from branches. (Three-toed sloths have three toes on their front AND back feet.)
Sloths look like some kind of slow-motion monkey and have long had a reputation for being lazy. The reason they move so slowly has a lot to do with what they eat: a variety of leaves, stems, buds, and some fruit. This kind of diet requires a special digestive system. Sloths have a large, four-chambered stomach, like a cow. Bacteria in their gut help digest the large amount of plant matter they eat. Due to the low nutritional value of their leafy diet, sloths usually move at a leisurely pace and sleep a great deal. They sleep 15 to 18 hours per day and (slowly) look for food at night. Even their innards move slowly, and some food items can take an entire month to digest! This slow metabolism helps sloths survive injuries that would kill other animals.
At the San Diego Zoo, our two-toed sloths eat low-starch, high-fiber biscuits, fresh fruits and veggies, and a variety of fresh browse.
A Sloths Diet
Sloth romance:These ponderous animals spend most of their time alone. But when a female is ready to breed, she lets out a nighttime “scream” that alerts any interested males. If more than one male reaches her at the same time, they slowly fight each other while hanging by their rear legs! Winner takes all, and several months later, the female gives birth (while upside down) to a single offspring.
The youngster must grab onto its mother's hair at birth and find its way to her nipples to nurse. The mother's body position looks like a comfortable hammock of sorts as baby rests on her chest. The baby begins sampling solid foods at about 10 days but still nurses for about a month. After that, the youngster continues to cling to its mother’s belly but eats whatever she eats. It first hangs upside down on its own at 20 to 25 days.
The sloth youngster stays with its mother for six months to two years, depending on the subspecies. It then “branches off” to live on its own. The young inherits a part of the home range left vacant by the mother, as well as her taste for certain leaves. Several sloths can live in a similar home range without competing for food or space.
A sloth’s voice sounds like the hiss of a deflating balloon, but the animal can also squeal and grunt as needed. A low bleat signals distress—sloth ears are most tuned to low-frequency sounds. The sloth has an excellent sense of smell. Males scent mark on tree branches from a gland on the rump.
We exhibited two-toed sloths in our early years, but without much success. In the early 1930s, we managed to keep a mother and her baby alive for three years.
Today, we have several Linné’s two-toed sloths at the Zoo and the Safari Park, serving as animal ambassadors for their species. Xena, born at the Zoo in 2013, meets guests up close during special animal presentations—and occasionally she is joined by her new baby, born in April 2019. The baby's father is another animal ambassador—a handsome male sloth named Brad Pitt.
Though not uncommon in the wild, deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction remain threats for the sloth.Other human-made threats include power lines and roads. Educating children and adults in the sloths’ home countries about the animals' importance to the ecosystem—and how to treat sloths respectfully—remains a challenge for those who want to help this unique and wonderful animal.
Both two-toed sloth species live in zoos. Yet identifying the two has always been problematic—they look alike! Based on the genetic information, a senior research associate in our Genetics Division designed a low-cost, easy-to-use genetic tool to identify two-toed sloths and improve management of the captive population. This tool allows visualizing DNA differences between species in a polymer matrix, a procedure that uses non-sophisticated tools in simple laboratory settings.
You can help us bring sloths and other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.
Sloths, the lazy leaf munching tree dwellers, live in the tropical forests of Central and South America. There are currently two genera; two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths. However, it is known that there were previously more than 50 generas that are now extinct.
While they have visual similarities with primates, there isn't any genetic bond between these animal families. In actuality, sloths are related to bears, anteaters and, their more distant cousins, the armadillos. They owe their name to the form and speed in which they move.
Keep reading to discover why are sloths so slow.
Why are Sloths So Slow?
One of the main reasons these animals are so slow is so that they can move about unnoticed. In doing so, they can cunningly avoid their natural predators such as eagles and jaguars that would otherwise find them if they were more active. They would be easy prey to detect and hunt if they were merely slow moving animals. However, their extreme slowness is a canny technique to make sloths almost impossible to detect as they blend in to the forest canopies and branches.
Monkeys are not as fortunate in this regard as eagles hunt and ravage their populations, something which sloths manage to avoid. This is because they feed on a resource that is plentiful everywhere in the forest: leaves. If they had to chase or move quickly for their food like monkeys, they would be just as vulnerable.
Besides, feeding on leaves is another reason why sloths are so slow. Leaves provide few nutrients and energy, so the sloth cannot spend too much energy with such a limited diet.
Sloth Metabolism and Feeding
As sloths base their diet on leaves, they have evolved to function on a very slow metabolism. Their stomach is divided into several compartments where symbiotic microorganisms ferment the food and draw the pulp out of leaves. These compartments separate and facilitate the absorption of food.
A sloth's food has lots of fibre, as well as the toxic components that plants can produce to fend off other animals. All this makes digestion difficult, so the digestive process can take up to a month in sloths.
The sloth comes down from the trees every 5 to 7 days to empty its bowels. Once alighted, they make a hole in the ground to deposit their droppings which they then cover up again. The ecological link is then complete as the sloth provides nutrients to the tree and helps to disperse seeds for germination.
There are several curiosities in the behaviour of the sloth and their slow metabolism as you'll see below:
- Sloths do their activities during the hottest times of the day. If the day is overcast or cool, they stay in the same place to keep warm.
- Sloths sleep hanging down from trees. They snooze for up to 18 hours a day. They can stay in the same tree for years as long as there's plenty of food there.
- On the forest floor, they are very clumsy and find it difficult to move as they practically crawl from one place to another.
How Long Do Sloths Live
- Paradoxically and contrary to what many might believe, sloths are very good swimmers. They can drop down from the trees into the water and, once there, they can swim fast and even cross rivers.
- Useful as defence against predators, but frustrating to eager sloth spotters, is their ability to go totally unnoticed. You will see that it has green algae in its fur that helps them to blend in with the surrounding vegetation, something unique among vertebrate animals. They are animals that have evolved to take advantage of the environment in a very special way to better their chances of survival.
Sloth Animal Facts
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A Three Toed Sloths Diet
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