Don’t worry, don’t hurry!

In today’s post Chiara from the Visitor Team takes a look at the sloth … that’s the animal, not the deadly sin of laziness! This fascinating creature has fans all over the world, and even has its own International Appreciation Day.

For more about nature and animals, please have a look at the Curator’s blog.

Sloth! Don’t worry, don’t hurry! 

The 20th October was International Sloth Day, that’s the animal not the deadly sin of laziness! This unofficial holiday aims to raise awareness about the life cycle and natural habitat of these native arboreal mammals from South and Central America.

These extremely slow-moving animals tend to spend their entire lives hanging from the trees of tropical rainforests. Their renowned slowness is an evolutionary adaptation to their low-energy diet of leaves – a consequence of their metabolism – with some meals that can take sloths up to a month to digest!

Slow movement helps them to avoid detection by predators. Their long limbs are adapted to support the weight of their body when hanging upside down for long periods but when on the ground, they are almost helpless. However, as awkward and ungainly as they may seem in this position, they are perfectly capable of walking – it just takes them a little while longer to reach their destination! Running is simply out of the question, and so when it comes to crossing a road, sloths cannot ‘dodge’ traffic and therefore their only hope for survival is dependent on drivers stopping and waiting for them to pass. This may seem like a suicide mission, and indeed it is why so many sloths fall victim to road collisions every day.

Sadly, it is not just the traffic that poses a threat to sloths, poorly insulated power lines are strung along every road in Costa Rica and electrocutions are one of the leading causes of sloth moralities.

A bradypus sloth on display in our Living Worlds Gallery, Manchester Museum

Some like it sloth

The grooved hairs are one of the most recognisable features of the sloth who has two layers of fur, which harbours a variety of symbiotic algae, fungi, beetles and other insects. The algae gives the fur its characteristic green colour and helps them to camouflage in the thick vegetation. Recent studies have shown that the algae and fungi in the sloth’s fur may help fight many human diseases, including cancer.

The majority of people assume that two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths are very closely related, but that is not true. Although modern two- and three-toed sloths share many characteristics they are not close relatives – they don’t even belong to the same family. Two-toed sloths belong to the family  Megalonychidae, while three-toed sloths are members of the family Bradypodidae.

So, how did two species that evolved separately become so alike?

They are the product of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution is when two different species or genera develop similar traits because of similar selective pressures in their environments.

Other differences between these sloths are the number of vertebrae in their necks, their number of ribs, their tails, and the lengths of their limbs. Three-toed sloths also have a small tail, while two-toed sloths do not. Two-toed sloths have arms that are about the same size as their legs, while three-toed sloths have much longer arms than legs.

However, two-toed and three-toed sloths are both ‘lazy’ for the same reason!

A sloth in its natural habitat. Photograph by Roy Toft, Nat Geo Image Collection (source)

The top 3 awesome sloth facts

  1. Until 10,000 years ago, South America had a big population of giant sloths the size of elephants. Giant ground sloths were large, lumbering beasts that lived during the Ice Age. They were directly related to today’s sloths and were also distantly related to anteaters and armadillos.
  2. Sloths generally come down from their trees only once a week or so to poo and pee. This whole process takes a whole lot of time and not only that, it burns around eight percent of their daily calories. This event makes the sloth an incredibly easy prey with more than half deaths occurring while the animal is pooping.
  3. The top speed of a sloth on the ground is only about 13 ft per minute but they swim much faster.
A sloth skeleton on display in our Living Worlds Gallery, Manchester Museum.

Life in the slow lane

Everyone deserves to relax every now and then. International Sloth Day is in fact about two things: learning to take a lesson or two from this peculiar animals and raising awareness about the many of them that get injured, captured to be sold as pets, or even killed by humans.

Chiara Ludolini

For more about nature and animals, please have a look at the Curator’s blog.

Find out more:

A syndrome of mutualism reinforces the lifestyle of a sloth

Facts About the Giant Ground Sloth

Aiunau Foundation

The Sloth Conservation Foundation

Sloths and the illegal pet trade

Saving the sloths: UN Environment

Header image: National Geographic


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s