Updated: Mar 8, 2021
by Abbie Krause
Not so "lazy" after all!
The dictionary defines “sloth” as “laziness”. It makes some sense then, that the slowest moving mammal in the world would end up with this name. However, another way to look at it is that sloths make clever, efficient use of their resources. If Energy Star rated sloths, they would get 10 stars for energy conservation.
Sloth diet is typically nutrient poor and very hard to digest thus their metabolism is very slow. Their multi-compartment stomach helps them efficiently digest tough cellulose but it is a slow process. It may take thirty days to digest one leaf! As a result, sloths live in a way that conserves and maximizes their energy use as much as possible. Some of their strategies:
1) Move slow – they generally travel no more than 125 feet in a day. On the rare occasions they are on the ground, they move only 1 foot per minute. Don’t be fooled though, if threatened, they can move fast!
2) Nap often - In the wild, sloths sleep 8-9 hours a day. Sloths in zoos sleep 15 -20 hours a day.
3) Be regular – Sloths only poop about once a week given their slow metabolism.
4) Take the fast lane and breathe deeply – Sloths are very efficient swimmers, moving 3 times faster in the water, they can hold their breath for an impressive 40 minutes, suppressing their metabolism to make their heart rate a third of its normal speed.
5) Make friends – sloths have a symbiotic relationship with organisms that live in its fur. Moss, insects, beetles and many other critters feed off nutrients and crumbs found in sloth fur. The moss will then also act as camouflage in the trees. The sloth’s fur is so course and long though, that it does protect them from insects getting all the way to the skin. Their friend making skills are limited though as they generally lead a solitary life.
As we look for ways to efficiently us our own resources and stay healthy,
humans might learn from some of these strategies (although too much may get us in trouble).
Though rarely seen, sloths at the Pueblo Zoo have always been a favorite. Guests make it a game to see if they can spot him in the Rainforest. Foley is our current, handsome, young resident. At this time, the Rainforest is closed, as are all the zoo buildings, as a safety precaution due to Covid-19. As the Rainforest is an open contact area, it will likely be the last to re-open in order to keep animals safe. In the meantime, Foley can be seen in regular features on Facebook.
FACT BOX by Anne Casey
Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth
Scientific name: Choloepus hoffmanni
Common name: Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth, Prezoso de dos dedos in Spanish, Preguica real in Portuguese
Description: A sloth’s coat is stiff and coarse; from gray-brown to beige with a greenish cast from algae that grow in longitudinal grooves in the hairs. The hair grows from the stomach to hang down the back - opposite from other mammals - to accommodate an upside-down lifestyle. Rain runs down the six-inch long hair and feeds the algae. The head is round with a flat face. The eyes are large; the ears are hidden by fur. Front feet have two toes with two hooked claws and hind feet have three toes, all with three-inch long claws adapted for sloths to hang beneath branches. The body is 21-29 inches long, weighing 9-19 pounds. The tail is vestigial and usually unseen. Sloths sleep curled in a tight ball to resemble a termite nest or a knot in the branch.
Range: Central America and northern South America, including Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela
Habitat: The canopy of tropical rainforests
Behavior: Sloths are arboreal, hanging up-side-down from branches by their claws and seldom coming down from the treetops, except occasionally to move to another tree. They move very slowly and depend on camouflage provided by the green cast of their algae-covered fur for protection. On the ground they are clumsy, dragging themselves by their front legs, but they are good swimmers. As herbivores, they get all their nutrition and most of their hydration from leaves, shoots and fruits which they consume at night. They sleep most of the day and depend on their good sense of smell and touch to forage in the dark. Sloths are solitary; it is rare for more than one sloth to occupy a single tree.
Reproduction and rearing: Sloths are sexually mature at 2 – 4 years of age. They mate during the rainy season from mid-December to mid-May with multiple partners. Gestation lasts from 355 – 377 days with a single baby born. The mother cares for the newborn which clings to her abdomen with its claws. The baby begins to take solid food after two weeks, is weaned at nine weeks and fully independent by 6 -9 months
Predators: Harpy eagles, jaguars, and ocelots; sloths are also hunted by people for food and the pet trade
Lifespan: Sloths live from 15 – 20 years in the wild and over 30 years in captivity
Conservation Status: IUCN rates Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth as a species of Least Concern though they are threatened by habitat loss and the pet trade
References: http://animalia.bio/hoffmanns-two-toed-sloth; https://www.lpzoo.org/animal/hoffmanns-two-toed-sloth/; https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/mammals/hoffmans-two-toed-sloth/; https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/4778/47439751