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Sloth Anatomy, Behavior & Diet

Anatomical and behavioral differences between these two sloth species support the scientific theory that they evolved from different Sloth lineages. The Three-Toed Sloth is thought to have descended from true "Tree-Dwelling" Sloths. Two-Toed Sloths are believed to be descendents of the now extinct Giant Ground Sloths. Many campfire stories are told of sightings of an unusual, elusive creature who haunts the woods and forests known as "Big Foot". Some people believe the source of this mystery may be surviving relatives of the Giant Ground Sloths, who could walk upright. It is surmised that these shy creatures known as "Big Foot" might actually be evolutionary marvels still living and surviving deep in the jungles and impenetrable heavily forested areas of the world. Surprisingly, but not very often, scientists actually "rediscover" species thought to be extinct for long periods of time such as the recent confirmation that the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, declared extinct for almost 60 years amazingly crossed over the brink from extinction. Or, in the case of new species discoveries, as recently as 1976, of the Megamouth Shark which proves we are still learning about evolution. This 1,650 pound deep-sea plankton feeding shark, genus and species unknown to science was haled as one of the greatest ichthyological discoveries of the 20th Century.

Three-Toed Sloths are one of the few small mammals that not only exist but seem to flourish on a diet of leaves and have notoriously slow digestive systems. The nutritional content of the leaves they consume does vary from season to season. Fibrous, tough, and sometimes protected by toxic chemicals which plants produce as a defensive mechanism to protect themselves from a host of jungle insects makes these leaves difficult to digest. Three-Toed Sloths are obligatory arboreal folivores (leaf-eaters) with complex stomachs containing a system of pouches to store and separate food in various stages of decomposition. Unlike their relative, the Two-Toed Sloth who consumes flowers, buds, and fruits, the Three-Toed Sloth eats a diet of nothing but leaves. Sloths have adapted so well to the tree-top canopy they feed, sleep, reproduce and live their days nestled high up in the trees. Sloth's natural enemies are predatory jungle animals like Anacondas, Harpy Eagles, Jaguars and Ocelots. Sloths usually descend their tree perch only every 5-7 days to defecate and urinate. They may take this opportunity to switch to a more promising tree food source, but they must actually drag themselves along the ground and are not capable of standing upright, although they are known to be excellent swimmers when necessary.

Sloths have one of the most variable body temperatures of any mammal, fluctuating daily and ranging anywhere from a low of 24°C to a high of 33°C (74°F - 92°F). One might find them basking in the sun or retreating into shade as a means of thermoregulation in the same fashion as lizards. Sloths are one of nature's most successful adaptation blueprints, carving out a niche in territory and food for themselves with little competition for Wilderness Survival! In fact their closest competitor for food is not in the primate family, excepting for the Howler Monkey, but rather from reptiles such as iguanas who are also generalized arboreal folivores preferring to occupy the same habitat.

Both species have shaggy fur, taking on a blue-green coloring from the algae that grows on them which provides excellent camouflage. Three-Toed Sloths are diurnal (active both day and night) and pass along from generation to generation a matrilineal existence. This means they inherit their mother's preferences for territory and diet and pass those survival traits on their offspring. Sloth mothers have an extended 6-month pregnancy and give birth to one baby once a year. Although weaned at 6 weeks, the baby sloth rides on its mother's back in Ring Tailed Lemur fashion for periods up to 5-6 months before becoming independent.

As always, all of us here at Tigerhomes.org hope you found this piece interesting. You will see in our Mission Statement our goal of providing you with the best Educational Information available. We sincerely hope our efforts will help instill the value of global conservation and animal education as part of your own goals. We invite you to check out other areas of the Sanctuary’s Web Site such as our World famous Animal Web Cams featuring our Tigers, Lions & Lemurs in beautiful naturalistic habitats.

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