Sloths are an adorable and very slow-moving mammal, that live in the treetops of Central and South American tropical rainforests!
Sloths sleep 15-18 hours a day to conserve energy, since their diet of leaves does not provide very many nutrients. They move so slowly when they are awake that algae grows on their fur! This algae is a great camouflage, helping protect them from predators as they blend into the trees. It might surprise you to learn that these slow sloths are most closely related to anteaters and armadillos!
They grow to be about two feet long, weigh anywhere from 8 to 17 pounds, depending on their species, and live to be about 15 years old, although some live as long as 30 years. There are two main species: two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths.
Two-toed sloths are bigger and are the ones that spend most of their time hanging upside down from branches. Their fur grows in the opposite direction as other mammals, allowing water to run off more efficiently during rainstorms! Two-toed sloths also have the lowest and most changing body temperature of any mammal, ranging from 74 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. If our temperature changes by more than 5 degrees, it means we are sick! They rarely come down out of their tree, and will often wait for the forest to flood, so they can climb down and swim to their next tree. Sloths are excellent swimmers!
Three-toed sloths tend to sit upright, relaxing in the fork of a branch. They have extra vertebrae in their necks, so they can turn their heads almost all the way around, very similar to owls! They also have very long arms, nearly twice as long as their legs, which allows them to reach across to other trees to forage for food. The dark coloring on their facial fur makes them look like they’re always smiling!
Sloths may normally move extremely slowly, but they can move quickly through the trees if threatened and can defend themselves with their sharp teeth and long claws.
Deforestation and other habitat destruction is the sloth’s largest threat. Educators work hard to help teach the importance of sloths to the ecosystem. There are many people want to help save this unique creature!