Found in Central and South America, sloths call the tall trees their home, as their long claws make it difficult for them to walk on the ground. World Animal Protection works around the globe to protect wild animals like sloths, elephants, otters, and tigers, and keep them in their natural habitats instead of allowing them to be subjected to the ᴄʀᴜᴇʟty of the animal entertainment industry or exotic pet trade.
Read on to find out more about these unique animals and why they belong in the wild.
1. Sloths only enjoy, on average, one bowel movement a week. They can expel up to a third of their entire body weight.
Sloths are famous for their bizarre bathroom habits — they will only relieve themselves once a week and can lose up to a third of their body weight in one sitting! Furthermore, they will only do it on the ground after wiggling around the base of a tree to dig a little hole. This weird weekly routine remains one of the biggest mysteries surrounding sloth behaviour. While there are many different theories, the likely explanation is that it’s all about communication and reproduction.
2. Without sloths there would be no avocados
The ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ giant ground sloths were some of the only mammals that had digestive systems large enough to process the huge avocado seeds whole. They feasted on the fruit and then dispersed the seeds far and wide. All tree sloths that we see today evolved from giant ground sloths — there were thought to be over 80 different types with the largest (Megatherium) reaching over six metres in height. There is even evidence to suggest that several different species of marine sloth existed, feeding from sea grass and seaweed in shallow water.
3. Sloths can fall 100 feet without ɪɴᴊᴜʀy
Sloths are anatomically designed to fall out of trees. On average, a sloth will fall out of a tree once a week for its entire life. But don’t worry, all sloths are anatomically designed to fall and survive — they can plummet from over 100 feet without ɪɴᴊᴜʀy (that’s the height of twelve double-decker buses). When two sloths ғɪɢʜᴛ it is typically over access to a female for mating, and the aim of a sloth ғɪɢʜᴛ is to knock your opponent out of the tree.
4. They can sᴛᴀʀᴠᴇ to ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ on a full stomach
Unlike most mammals, sloths have sacrificed the ability to control their body temperature in order to save energy. Instead they are completely reliant on the environmental conditions, and their core temperature can fluctuate over 10°C during the course of a single day! If they get too cold, the special microbes that live in their stomachs can ᴅɪᴇ, and the sloth can no longer digest the leaves that it eats.
5. It takes sloths 30 days to digest a leaf
Sloths have the lowest metabolic rate of any mammal, which means that it takes them a long time to digest anything. They have an incredibly large and permanently full four-chambered stomach, which can account for up to 30% of their body mass. In two-fingered sloths, this oversized stomach is supported by 46 ribs (23 pairs) which is more than any other mammal!
6. Sloths are 3 times faster in water than they are on land. Their preferred swimming style is the backstroke.
At his fastest, a sloth will race you down the jungle floor at a ʙʟɪɴᴅingly fast speed of about 4 metres a minute! Oh…hang on…. But their speed in water is even more stunning! Although they spend most of their time in the trees, sloths are surprisingly good swimmers — they can swim through water three times faster than they can move on the ground! Three-fingered sloths have two more neck vertebrae than any other mammal, allowing them to turn their heads through 270° and effortlessly keep their nose above water when swimming.
7. They could cure ᴄᴀɴᴄᴇʀ
Sloths have an unusual method of camouflage — cracks in their hair allow many different species of algae and fungi to grow which makes them appear green. Some species of fungi living in sloth fur have been found to be active against certain strains of bacteria, ᴄᴀɴᴄᴇʀ and parasites! Sloth hair also provides home to an entire ecosystem of invertebrates — some species of which are found nowhere else on earth (like the ‘sloth moth’). A single sloth can host up to 950 moths and beetles within its fur at once.
8. Sloths are three times stronger than us
Sloths are the undisputed pull-up world champions — from the moment they are born sloths are able to lift their entire body weight upwards with just one arm. Not only that, but sloths have 30% less muscle mass than similar sized mammals and are over three times stronger than the average human. They have a highly specialised muscle arrangement that can produce enough strength to withstand the force of a jaguar trying to ʀɪᴘ them from the tree. Specialised tendons in the sloth’s hands and feet lock into place, allowing them to hang upside down for long periods of time without wasting any energy. This unique locking mechanism is also how sloths are able to sleep while hanging from a tree branch, and they have even been known to remain suspended upside down after ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ!
9. Sloths are ʙʟɪɴᴅ
They have a very rare condition called rod monochromacy which means that they completely lack cone cells in their eyes. As a result all sloths are colour-ʙʟɪɴᴅ, can only see poorly in dim light and are completely ʙʟɪɴᴅ in bright daylight. Thankfully, sloths compensate for such poor vision by having a phenomenal sense of smell and a great spatial memory! Their bad eyesight also plays a key role in the sloths slowness — you can’t run around in the trees if you can’t see where you are going!
10. No one knows how long they live for
Because sloths are so difficult to study in the wild, no one has ever followed an individual from birth until ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ and it is virtually impossible to accurately determine the age of an adult sloth. All we have to go on is the lifespan in captivity, but sloths do not do well outside of their natural environment. The oldest known sloth in the world just turned 50 years old and she lives at a zoo in Germany. We suspect that wild sloths actually live for much longer than this, but only time will tell.