Ah, the majestic sloth. Is there any cuter creature in the entire animal kingdom? Their perpetually relaxed faces grace millions of T-shirts, screen savers, greeting cards and memes, but there is far more to these tropical mammals than just their famously adorable laziness!
All species of sloth fall into one of two categories – two-toed or three-toed. They live in tropical areas of Central and South America where they swing from branches and feast on high hanging leaves out of reach of other animals.
Here are 5 fun facts you never knew about the wild, wooly and wonderful sloth!
1. Their scientific name, Bradypus, is Greek for “slow feet”
There are seven species of sloth within the genus, Bradypus, which is Greek for “slow feet”. They are very aptly named considering their three to four inch clawed toes – which are perfect for hanging on branches – cause them to walk extremely slowly on land. They are so incredibly slow that algae grows on their fur! This is actually beneficial to the sloth because it helps camouflage them from predators.
2. Sloths rarely leave their trees.
Sloths eat, sleep, mate and give birth in their trees. They can be found napping while dangling from a branch or curled in a ball in the fork of two limbs. Spending time on the ground puts these poky mammals at high risk of predators, so they really only come down to use the bathroom or go for a swim.
They make up for their clumsy, plodding land travel with their excellent swimming techniques. They use their long arms to breaststroke gracefully through the many Central and South American rivers. When they are ready for a swim, they simply position themselves on a branch above the river and drop into the water!
3. Sloths have shrunk over time.
According to the San Diego Zoo, the ancient ancestor of the modern-day sloth was much bigger than the 18 pound cuties we know and love today. In fact, ancient sloths could grow to be as large as elephants! They roamed North America – rather than Central and South America – before becoming extinct around 10,000 years ago.
4. Despite their snuggly appearance, sloths prefer to go solo.
Sloths rarely interact with other sloths – except of course, when mating or raising their young. Female sloths carry their babies for five to eleven months depending on species, give live birth to single young, and raise them for up to four years. When it comes to socializing, sloths prefer to be alone with their own thoughts. The closest they ever get to friendship is sleeping in the same tree as a second sloth.
5. Sloths have extremely poor digestive systems.
The tough leaves favored by sloths are very difficult to digest. Their meals are broken down slowly in their bacteria-rich, four-part stomachs. It can take up to a month for a sloth to digest a single low-nutrient meal of foliage, which may contribute to their slowness.
Sloths are only 25% muscle, meaning they are unable to shiver in order to warm up in cold weather. Even though they live in tropical climates, it occasionally gets cold enough to prevent females from digesting their food. Nursing mothers may even starve to death.
H/T to LiveScience.com