The Sloth: Endearing and Endangered Rainforest Mammal, Going Noplace Fast

There are six known species of sloth Ground living sloths are not extinct in South America Ground living sloths can still be found in the West Indies

Sloths are the slowest moving of all mammals. Most of their entire lives are spent hanging upside-down from the branches of trees in the Central and South American rain forests. There are six known remaining species of these mammals, but there were once several more, according to naturalists. They feed on different kinds of fruit and leaves, plus insects and even very small mammals. Some species will also eat birds.

Source:  Wikipedia Creative Commons

The South American ground sloth soon became extinct after the arrival of man in its environment, and it is thought that hunting was responsible for the rapid decline in numbers. This had indeed been the case with the Asian and Australasian ground-living sloths. It is also thought that rapid climate change at the end of the last ice age may have contributed to the extinction of the South American ground sloth. However, the species did survive in parts of the West Indies, which may indeed be an indication that climate change was a minor causal factor and that human interference was by far the dominating cause.

Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons

The sloth’s limbs are specially adapted for tree climbing because they act as climbing hooks and enable the animal to grip tightly, a little like crampons used for climbing mountains. The top speed of a sloth is just one mile per hour--although the two toed sloth may reach the slightly higher speed of one and a half miles per hour.

Source: Wikipedia Creative Commons

All living species of sloth have three toes and that which is called the two-toed sloth actually has two fingers.

Their metabolic rate is extremely slow, and the two-toed sloth has a body temperature of around 24 to 33 degrees, which is much lower than any other mammal. Their fur is also adapted for their upside-down lifestyle and it grows from the under belly towards the back, instead of the other way round which is normal for most other mammals.

This super slow way of life is an amazing adaptation to the sloth's environment. Its slow-moving, often immobile posture, hanging upside-down from a branch, keeps it protected from predators and its thick, rough coat, which is naturally brown or grayish white, acts as a camouflage because it is covered in tiny green algae.

A naturalist from the U.S., William Beebe, did an experiment where he followed a sloth in the forest, for seven days. He discovered that out of those seven days, the sloth spent eleven hours feeding, eighteen hours moving around at a very slow pace and ten hours resting. The other one hundred and twenty nine hours were spent sleeping.

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Heather Tooley
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Posted on Oct 21, 2010