Sloths Sleep up to 20 Hours/Day, hanging from a tree

The sloth which is an arboreal Neotropical xenarthran mammal is not related to sloth bears. They reside on trees and are known for being extremely sluggish. Sloth is so slow that its name itself means laziness. Let’s find out more interesting facts about them!

Scientific name: Folivora
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Pilosa

1. Why are sloths so slow?

Sloths are the slowest animals in the world, they surpass the other well-known sluggish animals such as tortoises and snails. A sloth can walk with the fastest speed of 0.003mph. There is no mammal in the world that can be slower than that. This means that these animals rarely move more than 38 meters (125 feet) each day, and when they do walk on the ground, they walk only 30 cm (1 foot) per minute. Their reaction speed is roughly one-quarter that of a human.

However, their slowness is the reason why they still live until now. Sloths live primarily on leaves. But they have an exceptionally low metabolic rate, which allows them to survive on very little food. They spend days digesting what other animals can do in a matter of hours. It can take them up to 30 days to consume just a leaf. They have little energy because the leaves contain nearly no nutrition. That is why they move so slowly in order to conserve energy to survive.

As an added plus, their slow movements help them avoid detection by predators that rely on sight to seek prey, such as harpy eagles, jaguars, and ocelots.

And because of the slow digestive system, sloths can’t fart. The methane microorganisms in their meal are absorbed into their bloodstream, and they just expel them.

The majority of a sloth’s diet comprises leaves, buds, and delicate shoots. Their stomach has four distinct chambers that can hold up to 30% of their body weight. This stomach enables them to process the stiff cellulose they consume.

2. They are lazy

The Greek goddess Aergia who slept a lot represented the sloth in ancient times. A sloth’s life largely revolves around eating and sleeping in the trees. They sleep about 15 hours a day by curling up in a ball lying on a tree or hanging from a tree to sleep. In captivity, they can sleep up to 15-20 hours a day.

A sloth is sleeping on the tree

The remaining 9 hours, they crept through the trees to eat. Two-toed sloths are omnivores, eating both plants and animals: fruits, leaves, insects, and small lizards. The three-toed ones, on the other hand, are almost entirely herbivorous, they eat leaves and shoots. They take the dew on leaves and fruit and get additional water from their food.

Fact: In Christianity, sloth is one of the 7 deadly sins. It represents the person who doesn’t have any motivation to work, the laziness. The word sloth – sin came first while the word sloth – animal came after.

Some of the laziest animals you may find interested below:

3. Thanks to sloths, there are avocados

A modern sloth has the size of a medium dog. They grow to a maximum height of 76 cm and weigh of 4 to 7.7 kg. However, prehistoric sloths were much larger millions of years ago. They are the only mammals having a digestive tract that is large enough to digest a whole enormous avocado seed. They ate the fruit and then distributed the seeds all over the place.

All of the tree sloths today descended from giant ground sloths. It is estimated that there were around 80 different species of them. The largest one (Megatherium) has a height of over six meters (about the size of an Asian elephant). Ground sloths had been extinct on the North and South American continents for at least 10,000 years.

The giant ground sloths have gone extinct

There are 6 sloth species which are classified into 2 types: two-toed and three-toed sloths. The distinction between the two is in their forelimbs. The two-toed sloth has only two toes on their front paws, whereas the three-toed sloth has three. However, on their rear limbs, both species have three claws, or ‘toes.’

Despite their North American roots, modern sucessors live in Central and South America, including sections of Brazil and Peru. They reside in the rainforest’s high trees.

Fact: The three-toed sloth vs the two-toed sloth
– The 3-toed sloth is slower while the 2-toed sloth is more aggressive and capable of causing considerable damage with their nails.
– The Pygmy three-toed sloth is highly endangered, according to the World Wildlife Federation. Because of environmental and natural conditions, this three-toed sloth can only be found on an island in Panama.

4. They live a hanging life

It’s very difficult to breathe if you’re hanging from tree branches all the time. However, sloths were born this way; they are designed to do that.

Because of their remarkable biology, they spend 90% of their life hanging upside down. According to research, this is possible because their internal organs are linked to their rib cage and do not create pressure on their lungs. This enables them to breathe normally regardless of their position.

These creatures have an extra set of vertebrae at the base of their neck, which lets them spin their heads on a 270° axis. They have an almost 360° vision, helping them defend effectively. This unique feature distinguishes them from other mammals.

They spend the majority of their lives in trees, sleeping, eating, mating, and even giving birth upside down suspended in trees. Their powerful muscles and limbs, as well as their strong claws, allow them to cling to the trees.

5. They are much stronger than humans

The unquestionable world champs of pull-ups are sloths. They can lift their full body weight with just one arm at the time they are born. Moreover, they are three times stronger than the average person while having 30% less muscle mass than comparable-sized mammals.

Their highly specialized muscular arrangement allows them to bear the force of a jaguar attempting to tear them from the tree. Their wrists and feet have specialized tendons that lock into place, helping them to hang upside down for a long time without losing any energy. This amazing mechanism also allows them to sleep while suspended from a tree branch. They even hang upside down like that after death.

6. They poop once a week

The lazy animals only poop once a week and they even have a ritual for that. After digging a little hole around the base of a tree, they will wiggle around that hold and poop into it. Each time they climb down to the ground to do the business, they put themselves in the risk of being attacked. Approximately half of all sloth deaths occur while they are on the ground to poop.

Once poop, the sloth can lose up to one-third of their weight

So why do they risk their lives to do it? Scientists believe it has something to do with sex, they mark the tree to find a potential mate.

The notable thing is that their turds are enormous. They can poop up to one-third of their body total weight at once. This is 282% greater than what experts would expect to see.

7. They can die with a full stomach

Unlike most mammals, sloths don’t have the ability to regulate their body temperature. They have given it up to conserve energy. Like reptiles, they are fully dependent on the environment. Their core temperature can fluctuate more than 10°C in one day! If they are too cold, the special microorganisms living in their stomachs can die. As the result, they will no longer be able to process the leaves they eat.

Fact: There's a day for these animals
International Sloth Day was founded in November 2010 to help people learn more about these creatures and recognized for their love for one another. This also prevents them from becoming extinct.

8. Sloths don’t want to be touched

Sloths are well-known for being friendly, but they are not social animals. To avoid predators, they live alone in the wild and try not to attract the attention of other animals.

These creatures are extremely sensitive, they do not expect to be touched or petted. The perfumes and lotions, loud noise, or inappropriate handling can all make them stressed. They can find all of these threatening and will attack and hurt you severely with their sharp claws or teeth. Sloths are not dangerous or aggressive when they are left alone.

If they don’t like to be handled, why are they still smiling when being used as a picture prop for wildlife selfies? This’s because of their facial structure. Their face anatomy provides the impression that they are always smiling, even when they are in pain, fear, or tension. People may mistake this feature for happiness or satisfaction.

9. They are blind

The three-toed sloths don’t have good eyesight. They can’t see their own child from 5 feet (1.5 meters) away. This is because they are born without cone cells in their eyes, this rare condition is known as rod monochromacy. Thereby, they are colorblind, have poor vision in low light, and are entirely blind in broad sunlight. In their eyes, everything is black and white, with lower resolution.

Their poor eyesight also contributes to their slowness – you can’t move fast if you can’t see where you’re going! Fortunately, in the exchange, they have an incredible sense of smell and a fantastic spatial memory!

There are 4 types of three-toed sloths, but only 2 types of two-toed species. The three-toed species are both nocturnal and diurnal (though they are mainly inactive during the day), while the two-toed species are completely nocturnal (active at night).

10. They are Micheal Phelps of the animal kingdom

On land, sloths are slow. Their hind legs are weak, so they must rely on their arms and upper body to drive themselves forward. However, they are genius in water. They can swim three times faster than when they’re on the ground!

With the long front arms, they are excellent swimmers that can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes underwater. If there are waters nearby, the slot will jump in it and find a way to get through the forest faster.

Three-fingered sloths have two more vertebrae in their neck, which enables them to rotate their heads 270° and keep their nose above water when swimming.

In the clip below, you’ll see how fast a sloth can be when it locates a female’s mating call.

11. Sloths can fall 100 feet safely

These species are physically built to fall from trees. A sloth will fall out of a tree once a week on average for its whole life and it’s still safe. They can fall from a height of nearly 100 feet (30.4 meters) without any harm.  In a battle, 2 males usually fight with each other to mate with a female. And their main goal is to knock the opponent out of the tree.

12. They could cure cancer

To live when moving at such a slow pace, you must be well hidden. They do this with the color of green on their fur. However, their fur is not naturally green, they are simply covered in algae. Sloths and algae have a mutually beneficial relationship. The slowest animal gives the algae home and water, while the algae provide the host with camouflage and nutrients via the animal’s skin.

Aside from algae, there are numerous fungi species on them. Some fungi are effective against specific strains of germs, cancer, and parasites! Not only fungus, a full ecosystem of invertebrates, comprising moths and beetles, are found in their fur. One sloth can sustain 950 beetles and moths at once.

Unlike other mammals, sloths do not smell of sweat. It’s a protection strategy that allows them to avoid detection by predators.

13. Reproduce

Female sloths in each type will have different ways to tell the males that they’re in estrus. Two-fingered females release pheromones from their vaginal glands. They rub the scent on trees and branches to attract potential mates. Three-fingered females, on the other hand, will use their voice.

Once a month, a female three-toed sloth will go into heat for around seven days. She will begin by making a loud and high-pitched vocalization to catch the attention of neighboring males. These cries are similar to bird sounds or piercing whistles. Every month, the female will repeat the ritual for eight to ten days, with the increasing frequency until she is shouting every 10 to 15 minutes.

When males hear this sound, they become excited and will find the female making the sound. If there is more than one male, they will battle for her by swiping at each other while hanging from branches. These battles may be quite brutal, with some males receiving facial scars or even going blind in one eye. The defeated male will “cry” with high pitch.

Sloths’ primary defense is their claws, but if necessary, they have incredibly sharp and strong teeth that can nip or bite predators.

Sloths mate in a variety of positions, including hanging upside down, face to face, front to back, and even dangerously from branches. And they just need less than a minute to do this. Mating is the only thing the animal can do rapidly.

After mating, the male will stick around for several days, keep mating with the female and chase off any other males that get too close. However, he can’t do that during sleeping time. When the dominant male is asleep, the other males nearby can get in and mate with the female.

The mating behaviors and gestation periods differ greatly between species. The three-toed typically breeds from late summer to early autumn and gives birth early the following year, whereas the two-toed reproduces anytime in a year. The gestation period of the pale-throated sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) and the Hoffman’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) is 6 months and 11.5 months respectively. All females only give birth to 1 baby at a time.

The newborns are not eager to leave their mother after birth. They stick to their mother’s abdomen until they can feed themselves. This can last between 5 and 6 months. Depending on the species, the baby still stays by mom’s side for two to four years after it stops clinging to her.

Females reach sexual maturity faster than males for most species. The two-toed male matures at the age of 4 to 5 while the females achieve sexual maturity at 3. However, it is reverse with the three-toed or pale-throated sloth.

14. Lifespan

It’s hard to study these lazy animals in the wild. That’s why nobody has ever identified how long it can live. In capacity, the world’s oldest sloth is 50 years old and resides in a zoo in Germany. In the wild habitat, they can live far longer than that.


Animal Facts 276

We are passionate animal enthusiasts with over a decade of experience studying animals. With a degree in zoology and conservation biology, we've contributed to various research and conservation projects. We're excited to bring you engaging content that highlights the wonders of the animal kingdom. We aim to inspire others to appreciate and protect wildlife through informative content grounded in expertise and passion. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of animals and discover the incredible stories they have to tell.

Leave a Comment