They swing from trees, they sleep a lot, and they have adorable fuzzy faces. No, we’re not talking about Koalas, but sloths!
Sloths are naturally found within the tropical rain forests in Central and South America.
They’re what we call arboreal mammals, which means they evolved to live their lives in the treetops, opposed to on solid ground.
There are 6 species of sloths across two different families – the two-toed and three-toed sloths.
What is it about sloths that took the internet by storm to the point that millennial’s started referring to them as their “Spirit Animals” though?
Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting facts about them!
Sloth is more than just a name for these tree-dwellers.
Sloths make moving slowly an art form, so much to the point that their tendency to laze around was the inspiration for their name.
They have an incredibly slow metabolism, taking up to 30 days just to digest a single leaf!
They move at an average speed of around 13 ft per minute (4 m), increasing that to only 15 ft (4.5 m) when they’re in danger.
Talk about slow movers!
Sloths spend as little time possible moving, and even less on the ground.
Sloths don’t really have it easy when it comes to predators.
They pretty much have an inability to move at anything other than a snail’s pace, and no defense mechanisms to speak of.
They’re so vulnerable, in fact, that they spend most of their time at a standstill in the hopes they simply won’t be noticed.
The only time they really leave the trees, for example, is to go to the bathroom – and that’s only once a week!
Sloths in the wild are much more active than we thought.
Like most animals, sloths were easier to study in captivity than in the wild.
This ended up giving us false ideas on the nature of wild sloths though.
Sloths in captivity were found to sleep up to 15-16 hours per day, and so we made the assumption that this applied to sloths in the wild as well.
A study published in 2008 actually corrected this by a large measure – it turns out that wild sloths only sleep around 9-10 hours per day, just a few more than us!
Two-toed sloths have three toes, not two.
Wait what? You heard that right – thanks to a mis-translation from their names in Spanish, sloth’s names have become a little confusing.
In reality, two-toed sloths have only two claws on their front legs (like fingers) and three on their back legs (like toes).
Three-toed sloths have three at the front, and three at the back.
The confusion here is because in Spanish the word for toes and fingers is the same (dedos), so calling them two-toed/fingered sloths would make a little more sense. In Spanish, that is!
Modern day sloths are a shell of their former selves.
Sloths today are quite small creatures compared to their ancestors.
All of the sloth species alive today grow no longer than 31 inches (80 cm), and weigh up to 17 pounds (7.7 kg).
Giant sloths, the modern day sloth’s ancestors, were a completely different story though.
These ancient sloths lived on the ground, instead of trees, and some of them were up to 20 ft (6 m) long and weighed close to 5 tons!
They disappeared off the face of the earth around 11,000 years ago, most likely due to hunting.
Sloths move so slowly that algae grows on them.
Unlike the kind of algae you’ll find growing in your swimming pool if you leave it too long in-between cleans, this algae is actually useful.
This special kind of green algae only grows on sloth fur, creating a rather interesting symbiotic relationship.
The sloths leave the algae be, and allow it to thrive, and the algae in return provides some much-needed camouflage for this rather defenseless animal.
There’s quite a difference between the two sloth families.
When most people think of sloths, they think of sloths, and don’t really discern much more after that.
There are actually two species of two-toed sloths, and four species of three-toed sloths.
They come from quite different evolutionary families, with one of the most noticeable differences being their sleeping patterns.
Two-toed sloths are nocturnal, while their three-toed cousins spend their days awake instead.
Sloths are better swimmers than you’d think.
While sloths may be terrible at walking on ground due to their lanky arms and long claws, they can swim rather well.
While they can only move at a rate of up to 13 ft (4 m) on the ground, they can swim at an incredible rate of 44 ft (13.5 m)!
While that might not seem incredible compared to how fast we can move, that’s still nearly 5 times the speed they can walk!
Another convenient trick they have is that they can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes.
Sloths spend up to 90% of their lives hanging upside down.
If you were to try and hang upside down for any extended period of time, all the blood would rush to your head and you’d feel a little ill after a while.
Sloths, on the other hand, can do this almost endlessly!
This is thanks to the way they have evolved – their internal organs are attached to their abdomen, which allows them to breathe easily in such positions.
There’s more to a sloth’s smile than we think.
Who here hasn’t seen a photo of a sloth and thought about what happy looking creatures they are?
It turns out that while the sloth may in fact be smiling, we wouldn’t be able to tell at all.
The structure of their faces simply gives the appearance of bliss-like contentment.
While internet trends come and go, it’s hard to believe that anyone will ever stop falling in love with sloths over and over again.
There’s just something about them that calls to our primal nature – and by that I mean our desire to sleep in and spend all day on the couch!