Are Sloth’s Really Lazy?
In the 1600s, scientists began to use “sloth” as a name for arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals in the jungles of Central America and South America. Sloths comprise six species of mammals belonging to either the Megalonychidae (two-toed) or Bradypodidae (three-toed) family. Classified this way because of their specialized claws, sloths are related to armadillos and anteaters.
Sloths are “folivores,” which means they eat mostly leaves and buds from trees. Unfortunately, leaves don’t provide much in the way of nutrition or energy. They also are not easy to digest. Believe it or not, the digestion process in sloths can take a month or more to complete.
Sloth’s have large stomachs with many special compartments that help break down the tough leaves. At any particular time, two-thirds of a sloth’s weight might consist of what’s in its stomach! Since leaves provide so little energy, sloths must adapt in several different ways. Not only does their digestion process move very slowly, but their body temperatures are also lower than other mammals their size.
They also conserve energy by spending most of their time hanging upside down in trees. Their specialized curved claws allow them to eat, sleep and even give birth while hanging in trees. They move only when necessary, and when they do move, they move very slowly. In fact, they move so slowly that sloths are the slowest mammals in the world.
They move so little that algae grow on their fur. Luckily, the algae turn their fur a green color that helps camouflage them among the trees. Although sloth’s were once thought to spend up to 18 hours sleeping each day, scientists now believe that sloth’s usually sleep only 10 hours each day.