Do you know the answer to the question, “Why are sloths slow?” If not, you’re about to find out. Sloths are some of the slowest animals on earth, but there’s a good reason for that. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because they’re lazy!
In this blog post, we will discuss the surprising truth about why sloths move so slowly and what benefits it has for them. Keep reading to learn more!
Sloths are medium-sized mammals that live in the Central and South American rainforests.
The sloth got its name from its slow movement, it is not lazy, just slow-moving. The sloth is the slowest mammal on Earth. In total, there are six species of sloth.
Sloths belong to the families ‘Megalonychidae’ and ‘Bradypodidae’, part of the order ‘Pilosa’. Most scientists call these two families the ‘Folivora’ suborder, while some call it ‘Phyllophaga’.
Why Do Sloths Move Slowly?
Moving slowly allows the sloth to avoid predators; they also have a slow digestion process so it can take a long time to convert food into energy. Sloth’s do not want to waste energy unnecessarily.
A sloths main forms of protection are its camouflage (greatly increased by the coating of algae growing on its fur) and it’s very slow movement. These adaptations make the sloth virtually disappear in the rainforest canopy.
In the trees sloths have good camouflage and moving slowly they do not attract attention. Only during their rare visits to ground level do they become vulnerable.
Some sloths have colonies of green algae encrusting their fur, both adding to the camouflage effect and providing some nutrients to the sloths, who lick the algae during grooming. Sloth fur exhibits specialized functions. The outer hairs grow in a direction opposite from that of other mammals.
The main predators of sloths are the jaguar, the harpy eagle and humans.
The majority of sloth deaths in Costa Rica are from contact with electrical lines and from poachers. Their claws also provide a further unexpected deterrent to human hunters – when hanging upside-down in a tree they are held in place by the claws themselves and often do not fall down even if shot from below.
Sloths have very large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic (the living together of two dissimilar organisms) bacteria break down the tough leaves.
Sloths are omnivores. They may eat insects, small lizards and carrion, however, their diet consists mostly of buds, tender shoots and leaves (including leaves from the cecropia tree). It used to be thought that they ate mostly cecropia leaves because they were often spotted in cecropia trees. It turns out that they also live in many other trees, but are not spotted there as easily as in cecropia trees.
Sloths have a low metabolic rate and a low body temperature (91° Fahrenheit). This keeps their food and water needs to a minimum. They have small molars which they use to chew up their leafy food. Their stomach has many separate compartments that are used to digest the tough cellulose (a component of plant material that they eat).
As much as two-thirds of a well fed sloths body weight consists of the contents of its stomach and the digestive process can take as long as a month or more to complete. Even so, leaves provide little energy and they deal with this by a range of economy measures.
They have very low metabolic rates (less than half of that expected for a creature of their size) and maintain low body temperatures when active (30 to 34 degrees Celsius or 86 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit) and still lower temperatures when resting.
Sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly. They have about half as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator (4.5 metres (15 feet) per minute), but they burn large amounts of energy doing so.
Of the six species, only one, the Maned Three-toed Sloth, has a classification of ‘endangered’ at present. The ongoing destruction of South America’s forests, however, may soon prove a threat to the others.