The Deadly Sin of Sloth
Did you know that Sloths were named after the Seven Deadly Sins?
Scientists, in 1749, originally described sloths in scientific literature as "the lowest form of existence"! Of course, since then, as curious creatures ourselves, scientists have learnt much more about them and we now know that they're far from simplistic and lazy.
Today we'll give you evidence for that, and a little info on their evolutionary history, because why not? They're actually very fascinating little creatures... and physically stronger than many of us, haha!
Firstly, About Sloths
Sloths are arboreal mammals, native to South American Rainforests; there are six types of sloths, two of which are endangered,
You'll mostly find them in Brazil, Costa Rica, and Panama;
They travel between trees using canopy vines and choose to remain in treetops to hide and protect themselves against predators...
They're quite small, not usually much taller than 61 cm and will weigh in around 4 kg,
In the wild, they'll live between 10 and 20 years, though in captivity that number can double to 40 years.
Their ancestor was the Giant Ground Sloth (known as 'Megatherium'), which was hunted to extinction by humans, though studies show the sabre-toothed tiger might have preyed on them as well. (Anyone remember the Ice Age movies?). However, since it was so large and quite vicious when needed, that theory has now been dismissed.
Similarly to their ancestors, modern-day sloths are generally herbivores, though they will occasionally eat insects and lizards. However, their digestive system much prefers their greens!
Now, On With The Fun Facts
MOVEMENT & SLEEPING BEAUTY... MINUS THE SMELL
True, they are slow and only end up travelling around 41 yards per day (that's less than half a football field or as long as 63 Xboxes). Still, can you guess why they're so slow?
Sloths have an extremely low metabolic rate - it's the lowest of any mammal, which is what makes them sluggish, their bodies are too busy trying to digest their food. Part of the reason behind their sluggishness might also be because they sleep for around 15 hours a day, though...
Sloths have a permanently full, 4-chambered stomach, accounting for almost a third (it's 30%) of their body mass!
Two-fingered sloths support their stomach with 46 ribs, which is more than any other mammal! Sloths can also poop around one-third of their body weight in one go and risk their lives to do so on the ground... did you know that digestion of one leaf takes days?! Specifically, 30.
Sloths are solitary animals, like foxes and pandas (who are picky about their mates). Naturally, they're fall-proof, so on average, a sloth falls out of a tree weekly for the entirety of its life.
Did you know they can withstand a freefall of 100 feet with any injury whatsoever?
Imagine falling from 12 double-decker buses! That's sloths! When male sloths fight, it's generally over a female. They aim to knock their opponent off and out of the tree!
Sloths tend to live upside down - did you know baby sloths can lift their body weight with just one arm? (They're over three times stronger than the average human...) "And the World's Pull-Up Champion Goes To... Sloths!". They achieve this despite having 30% less muscle than similarly sized mammals. It's because of their highly specialised muscle arrangement, which is also jaguar-proof. Meaning they can withstand the force of the feline trying to rip them from a tree...
Sloths can hang upside down for extended periods (even whilst sleeping and after death) without energy depletion!
Another thing that may justify their sluggishness is that sloths have a rare condition called "rod monochromacy". It's where they completely lack cone cells in their eyes, making them colour blind and practically completely blind in bright daylight. At best, they see poorly in dim light.
They compensate for poor vision with an incredible sense of smell and spatial memory, but that's why they make deliberate and slow movements... imaging swinging across tree vines blind...
WATER > LAND
Sloths are thus 3 times faster on water than land!
Rainforests are prone to flooding, so out of necessity, sloths evolved to be excellent swimmers. They can turn their head 270°, swimming effortlessly!
Did you know the Giant Ground Sloth is more or less the reason we still have avocados today? They were one of the only mammals with a large enough digestive system to process huge avocado seeds - whole! Since they feasted on them (herbivores, remember?), the seeds were dispersed across the world - from the Americas to East and South Asia, including the countries around bordering the East Atlantic Ocean and West Mediterranean!
All modern sloths evolved from the giant ground sloth, which measured over 6 metres in height, although it is believed that there once existed over 80 species.
Evidence exists to also suggest several species of marine sloths, who would feed on seagrass and seaweed in shallow water. Since modern-day sloths are excellent swimmers, it's not hard to believe there once existed a marine type.
Why Are Sloths Endangered?
The IUCN classifies two of the 6 sloth species as endangered, which are the Pygmy and Maned sloths, who are respectively classified as critically endangered and vulnerable.
The pygmy sloth's classification comes from a rapid decline in population. The current population size is less than 250, which is down 50-70%+ in the last decade. Meanwhile, the maned sloth's vulnerability declaration results from its restricted geographic range from canopy fragmentation and urbanisation.
So you've probably noted a common theme here... habitat loss. Deforestation. Urbanisation. As human populations grow, we need more land to live and survive in. The go-to in achieving that is wiping out more forests to have fresh new ground. Well, in central America, for sloths, that means they're more vulnerable to falling from the safety of their trees. Especially when you consider their blindness is compensation from spatial memory... if the trees aren't there, there are no vines to swing from, so they'll fall. Making them vulnerable to car and dog attacks.
Whilst their natural predators include a harpy eagle and the jaguar, sloths can defend themselves well with quick slices from their claws. So that discourages natural attacks. The issue that it can't defend itself from is contact with electric wires because they can't sense them.
Sloths are also poached for pet trade, and whilst most people don't generally go for sloth meat, sometimes they're also hunted for food.
Further natural threats are that sloths sacrificed the ability to metabolically control their body temperature to conserve energy, probably for digestion and strength, if a guess was needed. As such, they're completely reliant on environmental conditions, so their core temperature can fluctuate as much as 10°C during a single day... if they're stuck in the cold, the microbes living in their stomach die, so even on a full stomach, sloths can die from the cold because they lose the ability to digest their food.
Want to Save Sloths?
Did you know that 100 Save the Sloths Bamboo Socks protects 20 square metres of rainforest in Central America?
Bare Kind donates 10% of profits on Save the Sloths socks to the Sloth Conservation Foundation, which invest funds into initiatives revolving around reforestation, education, forest protection, sloth monitoring and research!
Together, we can quickly save the world's slowest mammal!