The sloth is one of the many amazing animals that live in the rainforests of South and Central America. In this article, which is part of our Rainforest Animals series, we’ll look at the sloth’s life and habitat, and learn where it fits within the rainforest ecosystem. At the end is a list of sloth facts for kids.
Watch the videos further down the page to see sloths in the wild.
Sloths are slow-moving mammals that live in the rainforests of South and Central America.
Sloths are the slowest moving mammals on Earth. They’re so slow that tiny plants grow in their fur – giving them a slightly greenish colour and helping them to blend in with their surroundings!
Just Hanging Around!
Sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside down in trees. They use their long claws to hold onto tree branches.
Sloths eat, sleep, mate and even give birth hanging upside down in trees!
Sloths are mostly nocturnal, and sleep during the day.
6 Species, 2 Families
There are six species of sloth, divided into two main families: two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths.
You can tell the difference between the two families by counting how many ‘fingers’ they have on their forelegs. Two-toed sloths have two fingers, and three-toed sloths have three.
Perhaps they should have been named two and three fingered sloths; both families of sloths have three toes on their back legs.
We’ll learn more about the different families further down the page.
Watch this video to see a sloth in its natural habitat:
Sloths Facts: What Do Sloths Look Like?
Sloths have fairly small, thin bodies, long arms and legs and short tails
Their heads are small and round, with short snouts, small ears, and large eyes surrounded by dark masks. The shape of their mouths gives them a permanent smiling expression!
At the end of their limbs sloths have long, thin, curved claws. These can grow to be up to 3 – 4 inches (8 – 10 cm) long. Sloths use their claws to climb and to hook themselves onto branches.
The long limbs and claws of a sloth are designed for hanging and climbing, not for walking on the ground. Sloths have great difficulty getting around when on the floor, as this video shows …
A Living Habitat!
The sloth’s long, shaggy hair is home to many small plants and bugs. This is due to the sloth’s slow speed and the warm, damp rainforest environment.
The algae and other small plants in a sloth’s fur often give the animal a green colour. This is actually beneficial to the sloth, as it provides camouflage. Sometimes the sloth will even lick the algae off of its fur as a snack.
What Do Sloths Eat?
Sloths are folivores – animals that specialise in eating leaves. They also eat buds and shoots.
Sloths also have four stomachs to help break down all that greenery and turn it into nutrients. Even their stomachs move slowly! It can take up to a month to fully digest their meals.
Sloths climb down from their trees to urinate and defecate about once a week.
How Fast / Slow Is A Sloth?
Sloths move extremely slowly, only managing to cover about 6 – 8 feet (1.8 – 2.4 meters) per minute.
To compare, walking at your normal speed you would probably travel at about 275 feet (84 meters) per minute. That’s close to the length of a standard soccer / football pitch. Even when walking you’re about 39 times faster than a sloth! Can you imagine how much faster than a sloth you’d be running?
Sloths spend most of their time either eating or sleeping. In the wild, sloths sleep between 9 and 15 hours a day.
Can Sloths Swim?
They’re not very good on the ground, but sloths are good swimmers. They use a lazy, doggy-paddle stroke to move through the water.
Sloths have the lowest body temperature of any mammal, and can’t shiver to keep warm.
Two-toed Sloths (Megalonychidae family)
Two-toed sloths are slightly larger and faster moving than three-toed sloths.
Two-toed Sloths are around 60 cm – 70 cm in length. They weigh about 6 kg (13 pounds).
The two living species of two-toed sloths are: Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus) and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).
Two-toed sloths have been observed eating insects, lizards and birds in addition to plants.
Three-Toed Sloths (Bradypodidae family)
Three-toed sloths are smaller and slower than two-toed sloths. They have longer tails, but these are still quite short at 6–7 cm (2–3 in) in length.
Three-toed sloths are round 45 cm – 60 cm in length. They weigh around 4 kg (9 pounds).
Three-toed Sloths are omnivores. This means they will eat both plants and animals. Three-toed sloths will eat small insects and lizards in addition to leaves, flower buds and twigs.
There are four living species of three-toed sloth: brown-throated sloth, maned sloth, pale-throated sloth, and pygmy three-toed sloth.
Hiding From Predators … By Doing Nothing!
Sloths are very vulnerable when on the ground and tend to spend as little time as possible out of the safety of the trees.
Sloths are hunted by several rainforest animals, including: jaguars, ocelots, harpy eagles, and green anacondas.
It’s much easier for a predator to spot prey that is moving. Because sloths spend so much time either motionless or moving very slowly, they often avoid detection.
The algae in the sloth’s fur provides additional camouflage.
When cornered or feeling threatened, sloths will lash out with their long front claws.
- Thousands of years ago, giant sloths roamed North America. They could be as large as a rhinoceros or an elephant. They became extinct about 10,000 years ago.
- Sloths provide a habitat for other animals and plants. Moths, beetles and small plants all live in their fur!
- Sloths can be a tinted green colour due to the algae that lives in their fur. This gives them extra camouflage!
- Sloths have long claws on their front and back legs that let them hook onto tree branches and hang upside down with no effort. Sloths eat, sleep, and live most of their lives while hanging upside down.
- Sloths are the slowest moving mammals on Earth. They only move about 6-8 feet (1.8 – 2.4 meters) per minute.
- If a sloth feels threatened it might put on a ‘burst of speed’ and travel at 13 ft (4 m) per minute.
- Sloths can swim.
- Although sloths are mainly nocturnal, some have been found to be diurnal.
- Sloths take a long time to digest their food, and only urinate and defecate once a week!
- The shape of a sloth’s mouth makes it appear to be smiling.
Sloth Activities For Kids
- Think about what you can do to help stop deforestation and save the homes of rainforest animals. Write a short story about what you can to do to help save sloths’ homes.
- Gather some friends for a sloth race! Whoever crosses the finish line last is the winner!
- Draw a picture of a sloth hanging out in the rainforest canopy. Don’t forget to include the leaves, flower buds and twigs that sloths like to eat!
- Check out the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica.
Sloth Facts For Kids Conclusion
We hope that you have enjoyed learning about sloths. They are just one of the many animals who call the rainforest their home. Now you’re a sloth expert, why not find out about more rainforest animals? Visit our Main Rainforest Animals Page to get started!
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