Two-toed (2×2 fingers, 2×3 toes)
Tropical rainforests of Central and South America
Sloths are some of the coolest animals ever, and just because they're not conspicuous it doesn't mean they don't have any awesome tricks up their furry sleeves. In fact, it's their ability to camouflage that keeps them alive for their average life span of 20 years in the wild.
Appearance, camouflage & movement
Adult sloths range from 60-80 cm in length, with two-toed sloths generally at the larger end of the scale - although nowhere near the size of their prehistoric ancestor the megafaunal ground sloth, which reached the size of an elephant. Along with their characteristically long arms and tiny ears, only three-toed sloths have short tails, usually only 5 or 6 cm long. In the wild, most sloths are completely green because of the algae, fungi and other microbes that make a sloth's hair their home. Each sloth hair is actually folded in half to allow the microbes to nestle in properly, so clearly this relationship has given an evolutionary advantage to the sloths. Mainly this is camouflage from predators such as the dreaded harpy eagle, although some of the fungi hosted by sloths have been shown to protect against harmful parasites and even breast cancer. Harpy eagles are huge birds with lethal talons and beak, so the only way for sloths to avoid these predators is to camouflage and move so slowly that they're not spotted in the first place. If spotted, a sloth would be hard pushed to escape alive: in trees, they generally move at 4 m per minute, which they can increase to all of 4 and a half metres every minute if threatened by a predator. On land they're even slower: because they can't walk (in the ordinary sense of the word), they have to drag themselves along, which slows them down to a maximum of 3 m per minute. Surprisingly, sloths are agile swimmers, able to reach 13.5 m per minute.
Toilet rituals explained
Given their lack of prowess at moving on the ground, and their tastiness to jaguars, it seems ridiculous that sloths should climb all the way down their cosy tree, and then all the way back up, just to urinate and defecate, when it would be just as effective to scatter the fibrous pellets like bombs. However, scientists think that the reason for this unlikely venture is ... love. When females go down to leave their droppings behind, they can smell the faeces left by potential suitors, allowing them to find mates and reproduce. The average female sloth gives birth to one sloth baby each year. Apart from allowing the survival of the species, a sloth's faeces is proof of its remarkable digestive tract: it may take a sloth's food around 50 days to travel from mouth to rainforest floor (part of the reason why sloths only defecate once a week), but once a sloth has done digesting, every single nutrient possible has been extracted from the food. Sloths' stomachs may weigh up to a third of their whole body weight.
Sloth physique is not that bad
Although sloths move super slowly, they actually have incredible body strength. They can hang from trees in crucifix position and raise their legs up to horizontal without breaking a sweat - a feat that wouldn't go down badly in the Olympic games. Their claws are adapted to allow them to hold onto and hang from branches with minimal effort.
Fun Facts about Sloths