Sloths are amazing creatures that are very popular with the general public. Most people are aware that they live in tropical rainforests and that they are very cute and very slow, but besides that, what do you really know about sloths? These remarkable creatures have many fascinating characteristics that you may not be aware of. That’s why we’ve created this roundup of 10 fantastic facts about sloths. If you’d like to learn more about these amazing animals, be sure to read on!
#1 Sloths Are Slow.
Most people know this. However, do you know why these creatures move at such a slow pace? Sloths have an extremely low metabolic rate, especially in relation to their size. This causes them to move at a languid, sluggish pace. In fact, sloths are considered the slowest mammal on Earth; they move so slowly that they only travel about 41 yards per day – that’s less than halfway across a football field!
#2 Sloths Sleep a Lot.
Based on their behavior in captivity, humans have long assumed that sloths sleep approximately 15 hours a day. But in 2008, researchers discovered that when they are out in the wild, sloths sleep for less than 10 hours per day. However, that’s still more than 40% of their day spent in slumber!
#3 Sloths Are Mammals.
People often assume that sloths are marsupials or primates; this is a common misconception. Sloths are, in fact, mammals. They belong to the superorder Xenarthra and the order Pilosa. They are more closely related to anteaters and armadillos than to koalas or monkeys.
#4 Sloths Can Swim.
While sloths spend most of their time in trees, they are surprisingly strong swimmers. When they decide to drop down from the trees into the water, their long arms help propel them remarkably well. Sloths swim using a stroke that’s similar to the doggy paddle.
#5 Sloths Are (Mostly) Herbivores.
Sloths eat a mostly herbivorous diet consisting of leaves, buds, and certain types of soft green shoots or twigs. Some sloth species also eat fruit, insects, bird eggs, and even the occasional lizard. They also lap dew drops off leaves and fruits and they get additional water from their food.
#6 Sloths Spend 90% of Their Lives Upside-Down.
Sloths are able to spend so much time hanging upside-down because of their unique biology. A sloth’s organs are attached to its rib cage, so they don’t weigh on the sloth’s lungs. This allows for unrestricted breathing while upside down. Sloths eat, sleep, mate, and even give birth while upside-down!
#7 Sloths Live in Tropical Rainforests.
Most sloths live high up in the trees of tropical rainforests in Central America and northern South America. The pygmy sloth lives exclusively on the uninhabited Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a tiny island located northeast of Bocas del Toro in Panama.
#8 There Are 2 Main Types of Sloths and 6 Individual Species.
Sloths are generally split into 2 main groups: two-toed and three-toed sloths. However, there are 6 individual species of sloths. They are: the pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus), the maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus), the pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus), the brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus), Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus), and Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni). Of these, the pygmy sloth is critically endangered and the maned sloth is classified as vulnerable.
#9 Sloths Are Attentive Mothers.
Female sloths give birth to just one baby sloth per year. The gestation period lasts 6 months. Once the baby is born, it stays with its mother for another 6 months. Baby sloths hold onto the mother’s belly as they move through the trees together and bond. This is an important time that helps the baby sloth learn and develop. When the baby sloth finally leaves its mother’s side, it adopts part of her range and the two continue to communicate through calls.
#10 Giant Ground Sloths Once Roamed the Earth.
There was once a species of giant ground sloth called Megatherium americanum. The name translates to “great beast from America.” These creatures measured up to 10 times the size of modern sloths and weighed almost as much as a present-day bull elephant. Able to stand and walk on its hind legs, M. americanum would have stood at around 12 feet tall! This makes it the largest bipedal mammal of all time. That’s pretty intimidating! Thankfully, these giant ground sloths were vegetarians, not carnivores. In fact, there is some evidence that early humans preyed on these giant sloths, rather than the other way around. We know these creatures existed because specimens of M. americanum were collected by Darwin in the 1830s. Various fossils of M. americanum date as far back as the Middle Pleistocene (around 400,000 years ago) and as recently as the beginning of the Holocene (around 8,000 years ago).
Want to learn even more facts about sloths? Check out this amazing video!
Want to learn more about the world around you? Why not read our awesome article about trees?