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The Xenarthra owe their oddness to the fact they evolved in isolation around 80 million years ago when South America was still an island. They were once a hugely successful group that included a giant ground sloth, Megatherium , the size of an Asian elephant. This majestic creature was probably hunted to extinction by man following the last ice age. In fact it can take a sloth one whole month to digest a single leaf. If they did so any faster they would literally poison themselves. To help with digesting they have a multi-chambered stomach, much like a cow, the contents of which can take up a third of their body weight.

They also need to rest.

Animals of the Rainforest-Sloth

A lot. Curved claws and a strong grip allow them to hook on and hang — like a living hammock. An efficient design that means they only need half the muscle mass of regular mammals. Sloths do everything upside down — eat, sleep, mate and even give birth.

Three-toed Sloth: The Slowest Mammal On Earth - Nature on PBS

As a result their fur grows the opposite direction, away from their extremities and with a parting on their tummy. Each hair has a groove down the centre, which allows algae to grow inside it and give the sloth a wild green look. The coat of a sloth is basically like a mini jungle with not just algae but several resident insect species including a moth that only lives on a sloth. They have no natural body odour so they look and smell just like a tree.

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This endothermic adaptation has allowed mammals to colonise most of the environments on Earth — including the freezing cold expanses of both poles. But elsewhere, some mammals have abandoned the endothermic traits that evolution has gifted them.

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Having said that, the two-toed sloth is a bit more flexible, and will go a bit higher into the mountains in Costa Rica. A sloth's diet of leaves is nurtitionally poor and low in calories Credit: Getty Images.

This behaviour is much more typical of cold-blooded animals — lizards and other reptiles — than it is of other mammals. You have to spend a lot of time out in [the] field to see one. Look closely at a sloth and its fur will often also have a green shade to it. It might be tempting to assume that the animals have become so sedentary that they have become home to moss and algae from the trees around them. But this misses something far more fascinating, says Mazzoni.

What are these algae good for?

Study shakes up sloth family tree

Many scientists are trying to figure that out. The green algae and fungi could help sloths blend in to the background of the forest canopy. The fungal growths may also help keep down the number of parasites. Sloths have fewer parasites than other mammals of a similar size. The teeth are simple pegs, and the upper front pair are smaller than the others; incisor and true canine teeth are lacking.

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  7. Adults weigh only about 4 kg 8. The birth weight of B. The head and body length of three-toed sloths averages 58 cm 23 inches , and the tail is short, round, and movable. The forelimbs are 50 percent longer than the hind limbs; all four feet have three long, curved sharp claws. The outer layer of shaggy long hair is pale brown to gray and covers a short, dense coat of black-and-white underfur. The outer hairs have many cracks, perhaps caused by the algae living there. The algae give the animals a greenish tinge, especially during the rainy season.

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    Sexes look alike in the maned sloth, but in the other species males have a large patch speculum in the middle of the back that lacks overhair, thus revealing the black dorsal stripe and bordering white underfur, which is sometimes stained yellow to orange. The maned sloth gets its name from the long black hair on the back of its head and neck.

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    Three-toed sloths, although mainly nocturnal, may be active day or night but spend only about 10 percent of their time moving at all. They sleep either perched in the fork of a tree or hanging from a branch, with all four feet bunched together and the head tucked in on the chest. In this posture the sloth resembles a clump of dead leaves, so inconspicuous that it was once thought these animals ate only the leaves of cecropia trees because in other trees it went undetected.

    Research has since shown that they eat the foliage of a wide variety of other trees and vines. Locating food by touch and smell, the sloth feeds by hooking a branch with its claws and pulling it to its mouth. Normally, three-toed sloths are silent and docile , but if disturbed they can strike out furiously with the sharp foreclaws.


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