Of all the anthropomorphic garbage that gets hurled at innocent species, perhaps the sloths are most sinned against. There are two families Megalonychidae (“two-toed” sloths) and Bradypodidae (three-toed sloths). All actually have three toes but the former have only two visible fingers. This group belongs to the superorder Xenarthra, a group of mammals that evolved in South America around 60 million years ago. This superorder includes present day Ant-eaters and Armadillos. The extinct forms of the two-toed sloths included such amazing species as the Harlan’s ground sloth and Jefferson’s Ground Sloth, pictured below.
Our sloth of today is slighter of build and uniquely adapted to a life in the trees. It is usually no more than 50 to 70 cm in length including a stubby tail of 6 cms. It has sharp claws to hang on to trees upside down and also to defend itself from predators.
Sloths don’t need to move too much for their food and live off mostly leaves and fruit. To help with digesting this food, they have a multi-chambered stomach, very much like a cow, the contents of which can take up a third of their body weight. If a sloth spends most of it’s time(16 to 20 hrs.) resting it is due to the fact that it takes quite a bit to digest its dinner.
They can swim very well due to the swampy nature of their environment and can even swim through ocean waters. They are the only mammals that appear green due to the algae growing on their fur. This fur is also unique in that it grows towards to the head, because the sloths spend most of their time hanging upside down.
They have a peculiar fastidiousness for such slow creatures. Once a week, they come down to poo and are their most vulnerable to predators like (ocelots, jaguars and harpy eagles). They come down to the same spot, dig a hole and then cover the excrement. We can only guess that they engage in such risky behavior to signal to each other for mating possibilities.
The animals are solitary but come together to mate. The babies are born after 6 months of pregnancy and cling to the mother for the first five weeks. Even after they are weaned, they stay with the mother for a period of 5 to 8 months and then go their own way.
The sloth populations are coming down due to habitat destruction, the Pygmy three-toed sloth is particularly vulnerable. They are such harmless and cute creatures that one hopes that conservation organizations like The Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica can help them survive.