Why Are Sloths So Slow?

There are many animals in this world, each unique with their own characteristics and talents. Some, like cheetahs, are fast, while some, like sloths, are slow. One can easily infer that fast animals need their speed for hunting or running away.

However, have you ever wondered why sloths are just so slow?

Sloths live in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Wild sloths are solitary animals that only come together to mate. They can be 2 to 2.5 feet (0.6 to 0.8 meters) long and weigh from 8 to 17 pounds (3.6 to 7.7 kilograms). Most of them live up to 10 years. Sloths are not endangered, but some of them are threatened by habitat loss; deforestation in the tropical forests of Central and South America jeopardize the trees sloths rely on for food and shelter.

People often mistake them as closely related to monkeys with their long arms and shaggy fur. However, sloths are actually related to armadillos and anteaters. Together, they belong to an ancient group of mammals called the Xenarthra. The Xenarthra owe their oddness to the fact that they constantly adopted to the new environments starting around 80 million years ago.

There are two main species of sloth, identified by their features with claws. Two-toed Choloepus sloths actually have three toes, but only two fingers. Three-toed Bradypus sloths have three fingers and three toes. They also have extra neck vertebrae than Choloepus sloths that enables them to turn their heads through 270 degrees and become excellent swimmers. The two species are similar in appearance as both have roundish heads, sad-looking eyes, tiny ears, and stubby tails.

Sloths have an extremely low metabolic rate, which means they have to move at a sluggish pace through the trees. On average, sloths travel 41 yards per day – less than half the length of a football field. They are incredibly slow and inactive that algae actually grows on their fur. In addition to the extremely low metabolic rate, their diet consists mostly of toxic leaves that take a long time to digest and provide little energy. In fact, it can take a sloth one whole month to digest a single leaf; this benefits sloths because if they did so any faster, they would literally poison themselves. To help with digesting, they have a multi-chambered stomach, much like a cow, which can take up a third of their body weight.

A sloth’s body and biology are perfect to spend minimum energy. Curved claws and a strong grip allow them to hook on and hang. This means that they only need half the muscle mass of regular mammals. Actually, they spend 60 percent of their time resting. They do everything upside down – eat, sleep, mate and even give birth. As a result, their fur grows away from their extremities and with a parting on their stomach. They rarely come down from the trees except for once a week to go to the bathroom and to leave scent messages for potential mates.

Overall, sloths are eccentric animals that truly know how to relax, observe, and enjoy their lives!

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

This entry was written by Grace K. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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