Animal of the Week: Sloths 

By Kayla Sutter

SC Contributing Writer

 

Slow-moving Sloths Sure to Supply Smiles

Sloths are extremely slow-paced animals, known to the scientific community as “Bradypus,” meaning “slow feet” in Greek.  They make the rainforests of Central and South America their home.

They live high above the rainforest floor in the canopy: the combination of treetops that form a roof-like structure over the rainforest.

Sloths are mammals that can grow to be 23 inches in length and can weigh around nine to 20 pounds.

They have long arms with claws that help them swing from the limbs of trees, and most importantly, maintain their strong grip.

They have variations of grey and brown fur, which can be tinted green from the algae that lives on them. The sloth moves so slowly and is always extremely dirty, giving algae the opportunity to grow uninterrupted.

This combination of colors gives sloths the perfect camouflage to blend in with the trees.

There are two different variations of the sloth, the two-toed and the three-toed.

The main difference between the two and three-toed sloths are literally, the number of toes that they have.

According to courtland.edu, one other difference is the number of vertebrae they have. Three-toed sloths have nine, while two-toed sloths have six or seven.

According to worldwildlife.org, sloths are then further divided into six species: the Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus), Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactlus), Pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus), and the Maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus).

Unfortunately, “Of those, the pygmy sloth is critically endangered and the maned sloth is vulnerable.”

They are endangered because the rainforests they need to survive are being destroyed.

According to nature.org, “Between 2000 and 2012, 2.3 million square kilometers of forests around the world were cut down.  That’s roughly the size of all the states in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.”

Sloths spend all of their time in the treetops. They are herbivores, feeding on twigs, leaves, and fruits.  They get most of their water from plants while remaining in the trees.

Leaving the canopy only happens about once a week when the sloth needs to relieve itself.  The sloth is extremely immobile on land, and using its claws to drag itself across the rainforest floor on its stomach is the most functioning way to move.

Predators, ranging from large birds, big cats, and even humans have the advantage when sloths hit the ground. Since the sloth cannot move well on land, their only defense is scratching and biting, which leads to the sloth almost always losing the battle.

Sloths will occasionally fall from the treetops into bodies of water. Their long arms make it easy to paddle through the water.

Sleeping 15-20 hours a day, sloths have mastered hanging from the branches high in the air. They also mate and give birth in the trees.

A baby sloth learns the trade of the trees as it clings to its mother’s back for up to nine months after birth.

In recent years, pictures and videos of these slow moving sloths have seen over the Internet and posted all over social media sites. These sloths have won the hearts of millions due to their endearing grins and goofy-like postures.

 

Quick Facts:

  • The three-toed sloths can turn their heads around 270-degrees thanks to their extra neck vertebrae.
  • Sloths travel about 40 yards per day.
  • When sloths die, their grip does not cease. They continue to hang from the trees with the so called “death grip” still intact.
  • A sloth’s mouth is shaped in a way that makes it appear to be smiling constantly.
  • The mating process consists of the female screaming for the males, who will then come hang from the branches and fight the females.
  • It can take up to a month for a sloth to digest one meal.

 

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