Sloths live in tropical evergreen and mountainous forest canopies in Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Argentina and the Amazon. According to Cuco Tipo, a travel service in Costa Rica, "studies indicate that they feed on more than 96 species of trees," but the Cecropia is its primary food source. Some sloths stay in the same tree for years before moving to a new one. They are the slowest mammal on earth and seldom leave the safety of the trees they live in.
Sloths are most often seen living in and eating in Cecropia trees because they grow in open areas, such as forest clearings, riverbanks and roadsides. A relative of the mulberry tree, the Cecropia tree is found in the lower canopy of the forest. They are small, umbrella-shaped trees that grow quickly. Its leaves are ground up and used for a multitude of medicinal purposes, such as asthma, upper respiratory diseases, diabetes, wounds, bruises, bone fractures, kidney disorders, high blood pressure, Parkinson's disease and pain after childbirth. Although it is believed that the sloth feeds on a variety of trees, the Cecropia is the only species that has been consistently observed in research studies as the sloth's habitat.
Sloths have thick, long and coarse hair that is brown, with a slight green tint. The green coloring comes from algae, which grows on it because of its exceptionally slow movement. This provides a camouflage protection from predators, since it enables it to conceal itself within the forest canopy. Sloths have a small, flat head, minute ears, a short snout, big eyes, long legs, virtually no tail and long, curved nails on each foot. More than 900 beetles and species of mites live within a sloth's hair and depend on it for survival.
Female sloths tend to gather together, but males are shy and solitary. They are nocturnal and use their long claws and arms to hang upside down from trees. Sloths eat, sleep, mate and give birth while hanging upside down. They descend from their tree homes once every four to eight days to eliminate waste at the base. Sloths are highly skilled swimmers and use the wet season to search for food and change trees.
The diet of sloths consists of leaves, buds, twigs, fruit, berries, flowers and occasionally small animals and insects. A sloth will feed on leaves from up to 30 species of trees. Its preference is determined by what its mother teaches it to eat. Their low body temperature and slow metabolism enables them to survive on minimal amounts of food and water. Their food digests slowly, staying in their stomachs for up to one month.
One species of sloth is classified as endangered, while the remaining species are stable but in danger of experiencing declining populations. Threats to remaining sloth populations include habitat destruction and hunting for their fur, meat and claws. Because of deforestation and their slow movement, they are frequently hit by cars.
- Anywhere Costa Rica; Flora-Fauna; Mammal; Three-Toed Sloth
- California Institute of Technology; Personnel; Krubal; Rainforests
- Animal Life Resource: Three-Toed Sloths
- Raintree Nutrition Tropical Plant Database: Cecropia
- Cupo Tico; Info; Reserve; Three Toed Sloth
- Rainforest Alliance; Kids Corner; Species Profiles; Brown-Throated Three-Toed Sloth
- Photo Credit Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images
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