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Three-toed Sloth facts: All about the Three-toed Sloth



The Three-toed Sloth has deservedly earned the title of being the world’s slowest mammal. But that’s not the only thing that makes this animal so unusual. This Three-toed sloth fact sheet explains more. 

Body temperature
The sloth has a body temperature of 30-34 Celsius, which is low for a mammal. It also has a much lower muscle mass than other mammals of a similar size, so it’s unable to keep itself warm by shivering. Instead it regulates its body temperature by moving in and out of shade like a reptile does.  All of this makes it a sluggish animal, which travels at an average of just 1.8 to 2.4m per minute and sleeps up to 20 hours each day to conserve energy.  

The greenish tint that can be seen on the long, coarse fur of a sloth is not its natural colouring, it’s algae. The sloth moves so slowly that algae grows on it, which is good news as it provides camouflage as it moves gradually through the forest canopy. The algae also supports an ecosystem of insects, butterflies, beetles and mites, all of which thrive on their sloth fur home. 

Sloths have a flexible neck that is unique in the mammal kingdom. While almost all other mammals, from humans to giraffes, have seven vertebrae in their neck, the sloth has up to 10. These extra vertebrae enable them to turn
their heads by about 90 degrees

As with everything else about the sloth, its digestive system is slow. It takes up to a month for it to process a meal. The leaves it eats are difficult to digest, so a four-part stomach digests them slowly. As their metabolism is less than speedy, they don’t need to eat much food – just a simple diet of leaves, twigs and buds.

An adult female will spend half the year pregnant and the other half looking after her single young. She will often give birth to her baby while hanging upside down from a tree branch. The baby will start to eat leaves at two weeks old but will continue to depend on its mother for milk for several months, clinging to her as she moves around the trees to feed.

The name Three-toed Sloth is a bit misleading as all sloths have three toes. What differentiates the three-toed variety is not its three toes, but its three fingers. The strong claws on these fingers are essential for hanging effortlessly in the trees where it spends the majority of its life, descending to the forest floor only once a week in order to defecate. Sloth claws provide such a strong grasp that they can even sleep upside down, suspended from a branch. When they are on the ground, though, these large claws become a hindrance as they are unable to walk on them. Sloths do use their claws to pull themselves along the floor and, in water, they are surprisingly good swimmers, using their long arms to propel themselves along. 

Where in the world
There are four species of the Three­toed Sloth, including the Brown­throated, Maned, Pale­throated, and Pygmy sloths. These arboreal animals are found as far south as Brazil in South America, and as far north as Honduras in Central America, where they live in cloud and rain forests. The Brown­throated Three­toed Sloth is the most common, while the endangered Pygmy Three­toed Sloth is found only on Escudo Island off the coast of Panama.