Read on to learn more about sloths and why they belong in the wild.
10 Interesting Facts About Sloths
1. It takes two
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. There are two types of sloths, two-toed and three-toed. However, this can get confusing as both types have three claws, or ‘toes,’ on their hind limbs. In reality, the ‘two-toed’ sloth should really be called the ‘two-fingered’ sloth, as the difference between both can be found on their front limbs.
2. Big brother
The modern sloth is usually around the size of a medium-sized dog. But ancient sloths of years ago, known as ‘Megatherium,’ could grow as large as an Asian elephant! These giant sloths sometimes featured areas of small bone discs that would act as ‘armor plating’ for protection. They became extinct around 10,000 years ago.
Lucky is a young adult three-toed sloth who resides at the AIUNAU sanctuary in Columbia after being rescued from captivity.
3. Natural camouflage
Sloths possess a symbiotic relationship with the algae that grows on their fur. While the sloth provides the algae with shelter and water (as sloth fur is highly absorbent), the algae provide the sloth with camouflage and extra nutrients through the sloth’s skin.
4. Hanging around
Sloths can spend 90% of their lives hanging upside down thanks to their impressive biology. Studies show this is possible because their organs are attached to their rib cage, so they don’t weigh down on their lungs. Unlike us, a sloth can hang upside down without affecting their breathing.
Princesa is an inquisitive two-toed sloth, also looked after at the AIUNAU sanctuary in Colombia.
5. A green diet
A sloth’s diet consists mainly of buds, leaves, and tender shoots. They have a multi-compartment stomach that allows them to effectively digest the tough cellulose that they eat. This is a slow process, taking 30 days to digest one leaf!
6. Looking at you
Sloths have extra vertebrae at the base of their neck, allowing them to turn their head on a 270° axis. They can obtain an almost 360° view of their surroundings, which proves to be a highly beneficial defense mechanism. This unique feature makes sloths stand out from other mammals whose bone structures do not allow for this flexibility.
A wild sloth in the Sobrenia National Park in Panama.
7. Doing the lengths
Although sloths have long claws that make walking on land difficult, they can move up to three times faster when they swim – surprising for such a typically slow-moving animal! They can also hold their breath for an impressive 40 minutes, suppressing their metabolism to make their heart rate a third of its average speed.
8. Taking it slow
The sloth’s nature allows them to conserve energy, moving slower than any other mammal. This modest pace means that sloths generally travel no more than 125 feet (38 meters) in a single day, and on the rare occasion that they find themselves at ground level, they crawl only 1 foot (30 cm) per minute.
A wild infant sloth in the Sobrenia National Park in Panama.
The facial structure of a sloth gives the appearance that they are constantly smiling – even if they’re experiencing pain, stress, or anxiety. When sloths are used as a photo prop for wildlife selfies, tourists may accidentally confuse this feature for happiness or contentment.
Help keep sloths in their natural habitat
Our study found that the most common species used for selfies in the Amazon are sloths, pink river dolphins, anacondas, and caiman – with sloths being used the most.
In the wild, sloths typically live quiet, sleepy lives. When used as props for tourist photos, they are constantly surrounded by noise and poorly handled by guides and tourists alike. Research shows that sloths are frequently held by their claws or arms with no support, causing them to experience high levels of fear and stress.
When traveling, take pictures of sloths and other wild animals from a distance and when they are in their natural habitat. Do not interact with them, and say no to anyone who offers you to hold a sloth for a photo. Help protect sloths by signing the Wildlife Selfie Code for more tips to keep wildlife where they belong: in the wild. Sloths do not want a hug-- they want to survive.