What are sloths?

Sloths are tree-dwelling mammals originating from tropical rainforests in Central and South America. They’re known for their sedentary lifestyle, as sloths spend around 15 hours sleeping daily. The rest of their time was spent eating, traveling from tree to tree, and hiding from predators. But, surprisingly, sloths are excellent swimmers and often drop from the tree tops into the water for a swim.

Sloths can belong to either the two-toed or three-toed family, depending on the number of claws on their front paws. Unfortunately, this makes their family names misleading. All sloths have three toes on their back feet.

Although there are two sloth families, there are six sloth species, and these are:

  • Pygmy three-toed sloth, which is endangered
  • Maned sloth, which is vulnerable
  • Pale-throated sloth
  • Brown-throated sloths are one of the most common mammals found in Central and South American rainforests
  • Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth
  • Hoffman’s two-toed sloth

There are extinct sloths, too. The illustration below is of one of the extinct ground sloths. This was a big group of animals. The giant ground sloth, Megatherium, was one of the largest land mammals ever, up to 6 meters tall and over 4 tonnes!

Where do sloths live?                                                                         

Sloth habitats range across Central and South America. They spend their lives in the tropical rainforests in these regions. The more consistent the rainfall and denser the trees, the better for sloths. Let’s look at two examples:

  • The maned Three-toed sloth lives in wet, tropical forested lands on the coast of Brazil. They like to live in around 21 species of trees. These sloths have been found as high up as 1,290 meters above sea level.
  • Hoffmann’s Two-toed sloth habitats span the forest, shrubland, and grassland of Peru, Bolivia, and the west coast of Ecuador, Panama, and Costa Rica. They have been found 3,300 meters above sea level! Like the maned Three-toed sloth, they prefer forests with high annual rainfall without much dry season.

Three-toed Sloth Habitats:

There are four species of three-toed sloths. These are the pygmy three-toed sloth, the maned three-toed sloth, the pale-throated three-toed sloth, and the brown-throated three-toed sloth.

The three-toed sloth’s habitats can be found in the high canopies of the rainforests of Central and South America – or, sometimes, in water sources such as rivers.

While some three-toed sloth, for example, the brown-throated three-toed sloth, live in a range of habitats – from rainforests to semi-deciduous forests and subtropical lowlands to swamps – others live in a very narrow range, like the pygmy three-toed sloth. They are restricted to an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

14 Fun Sloth Facts for Kids:

  1. Sloths have a slow metabolic rate, making them move slowly as they travel. Unfortunately, they’re so slow that they don’t often span more than half the football field length daily!
  2. Sloths move so slowly that algae and fungi have time to land and grow on them! This is a good thing because their greenish tinge helps sloths camouflage. Also, the type of algae and fungi that grows on their hair protects them from parasites and bacteria.
  3. Being slow has its advantages against predators, who have keen eyesight and hearing, designed to seek out prey on the move. As sloths move slowly and are high up, off the ground, they can often avoid being hunted.
  4. Baby sloths travel on their mothers for approximately six months. They learn how to eat and move between treetops during this time. After six months, they can communicate with their mother by calling each other.
  5. Sloths travel from the treetops to the forest floor once a week to eliminate waste from their bodies. But, incredibly, they only do this once a week because being on the forest floor exposes them to predators, which they cannot fight. This is why sloths prefer to spend time high-up in the rainforest canopy.
  6. Eating twigs, buds and leaves can be tough, especially as sloths don’t have incisors. They have to use their tough lips to break down their food before attempting to swallow it. Digesting it can take time, too!
  7. Sloths have an incredible scent of smell. They use this to help them move around the trees, find food, and find a mate.
  8. Because sloths are color-blind, their sense of smell and slow movement helps them to take in their habitat. Staying in the shade and being active at night also helps them too.
  9. One of the most impressive sloth facts for kids: although sloths can’t move their eyes, they can rotate their heads 270 degrees, which is handy when swimming!
  10. Not all sloths are endangered, but many are losing their natural habitats because of deforestation in Central and Southern America. All six species of sloth need healthy forests to survive; the more forests are destroyed, the harder it is for them to stay.
  11. There are two different kinds of sloths – two-toed and three-toed. However, this name is somewhat misleading as the number relates to how many claws they have on each front foot or hand. Their long nails anchor them to branches, letting them hang easily and with little effort.
  12. Sloths are very strong swimmers. They use their long arms to move through the water – in rivers like the Amazon. They can move about three times as quickly through the water as they can over land.
  13. Sloths are completely blind in bright daylight. Staying in the shady canopy and being active at night helps them to see more clearly.
  14. They sleep for around 15 hours each day. This leaves nine hours to wind their way through the trees and munch on leaves.

What are baby sloths called?                                                  

Baby sloths are called cubs. Sloth mothers give birth to cubs about once a year.

They are mammals, so they carry their baby for six months. After this time, the baby will cling to their mother for another six to nine months, learning all about being a sloth. After this time, the infant leaves. But they’ll still keep in touch with their mother through calls that echo through the canopy.

How do sloths stay warm?

This is a big question. Researchers are still trying to understand how sloths maintain their metabolism and temperature!

What we do know is that two-toed sloths have the most variable body temperature of any mammal!

Their body temperature can range from 22 to 33 degrees Celsius. This means their bodies are stable within a wider range of limits compared to other mammals like humans.

This makes sloths unique. Usually, mammals can regulate their body temperature within a narrow range. So they expend energy to shiver when it’s cold, for example, to maintain their body temperature.

Sloths don’t have much energy, so they don’t regulate their temperatures the same way. Instead, they do things like a move-in and out of shade. This is a bit like what reptiles do. Moving to places where it’s warm and cool helps them maintain their body temperature.

Sloths even use less energy when it’s hot! This is unique in the animal kingdom. They move somewhere cool and sleep without using power to cool themselves down.

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