1. Habitat (WHERE THEY LIVE)

The sloth is a slow-moving mammal that lives in trees. Sloths spend almost all of their lives in trees; they are arboreal. These mostly-quiet mammals live in the tropical rain forests of South and Central America including the Amazon of Peru. Sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside-down from tree branches; they eat, sleep, mate, and give birth upside-down in the trees. They hold onto tree branches with strong, curved claws that are on each of their four feet.



2. Appearance (WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE)

Sloths have a thick brown (and slightly-greenish) fur coat. Sloths are about the size of a cat (roughly 61 cm long). They have a short, flat head, big eyes, a short snout (nose), a short or non-existent tail, long legs, and tiny ears. Strong, curved claws are on each foot; they use these claws to hang from trees.

Some sloths have green algae growing on their fur, both adding to the camouflage effect and providing some nutrients to the sloths, who lick the algae.

3. Diet

Sloths are plant-eaters who are more active at night; they eat leaves (including leaves from the cecropia tree), tender young shoots, and fruit; they are herbivores (plant-eaters). It used to be thought that sloths ate mostly cecropia leaves because they were often spotted in cecropia trees. It turns out that they also live in many other trees, but aren't spotted there as easily as in cecropia trees.

Sloths need a lot of time to digest their food and have a low body temperature (32.8°C; human temperature is 37.6°C). This keeps their food and water needs to a minimum. Sloths have small teeth which they use to chew up their leafy food. Their stomach has many separate compartments that are used to digest the tough plant material that they eat.

4.  Raising Babies

Adult females produce a single baby each year. They give birth upside down hanging from a tree branch. Sloths may live 10-20 years in the wild.

Sloth mothers give birth to one baby a year, after a six month pregnancy. The young one is weaned from milk after about six weeks, but continues to ride on the mother for another five months. Occasionally the baby sloth falls off. Even at a young age, sloths are very strong and they rarely die from a fall. There is more danger from the mother not wanting to come down and get them. During this time the young sloth learns from its mother which leaves are to be eaten, where to find shelter, and where edible trees are located. Until six months old, the young one keeps at least one foot on its mother while reaching for leaves to eat, until finally the mother just moves away and keeps on going to another part of her home range.

5. Why is the Sloth Endangered?

Sloths are hunted by jaguars, harpy eagles, and people. A sloth's main forms of protection are its camouflage (greatly increased by the coating of algae growing on its fur) and its very slow movement; these adaptations make it virtually disappear in the rain forest canopy.

Sloths cannot survive outside the tropical rainforests of South and Central America. Of the six species of sloths, only one, the Maned Three Toed Sloth, has a classification of "endangered" at present. The ongoing destruction of South America's forests, however, may soon prove a threat to the others.

6. Interesting Facts

The sloth is the slowest mammal on Earth. Sloths are quadrupeds (four-legged animals) who "walk" upside-down along tree branches. They only rarely venture to the ground and walk on the ground in an upright position. Sloths can swim well.

Sloths sleep during the day. They sleep about 15 to 18 hours each day, hanging upside down. The sloth got its name from its slow movement. It is not lazy, just slow-moving. Male sloths are solitary, shy animals. Females sometimes congregate together. Sloths are nocturnal; they are most active at night and sleep all day.


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