Sloths. Who knew these peculiar-looking creatures would capture the hearts of so many people around the world? Slow, sleepy and somewhat strange, sloths may not seem like strong candidates for becoming internet superstars, but it appears that their on-screen snoozing has caused an international sensation!
Meet the sloths
Lucy Cooke – a zoologist and filmmaker with a passion for odd animals – has caused something of a stir with her short video “Meet the Sloths”, which went viral within days of its unveiling on YouTube and Vimeo. Showcasing the charismatic inhabitants of a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, Meet the Sloths has been viewed by over seven million people online, and has even gathered a cohort of famous fans, including Ashton Kutcher, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry. The sleepy sloths proved such a hit that a full length documentary about these captivating creatures recently aired on US and UK television.
Here at ARKive we decided it was about time we embraced the celebrity status of these endearing animals and shared a few of our favourite facts – let’s meet the sloths!
Named after one of the seven deadly sins, sloths have gained a reputation as one of the laziest animals on the planet, and perhaps rightly so – sloths are known to spend between 15 and 20 hours a day fast asleep! Indeed, because these creatures stay so remarkably still, scientists had to attach electrodes to their heads to work out when they were sleeping.
Slowly does it
Sloths are able to remain completely motionless for hours. In fact, these statuesque species are so good at staying still that algae flourishes in their fur, often giving sloths a distinctive greenish tinge. The green algae help to camouflage the sloths in trees, making them less visible to predators such as eagles.
Just hanging around
All sloths have three toes on their back feet, but the different species can be distinguished by the number of long, curving claws on their front feet: two-toed species have two claws, while three-toed species have three. These tenacious talons are extremely powerful, and are ideally shaped to hook around tree branches. Sloths do almost everything in the trees, including feeding, mating and sleeping, only descending to the ground once a week when nature calls!
These unusual animals have around half the body muscle of most other mammals, and are unable to keep warm by shivering. Instead, sloths regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of the shade in their treetop retreats. The body temperature of the two-toed sloth is one of the most variable of any mammal, fluctuating between 24 to 33°C depending on the weather and the time of day.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that sloths are related to primates given their arboreal antics, but sloths are actually more closely related to anteaters and armadillos. They all belong to the order Xenarthra, which means ‘strange joints’. Sloths are clearly no exception – they have an extra flexible neck due to additional vertebrae, meaning that they are able to rotate their head an astounding 270 degrees!
Climb, crawl, swim…
Although sloths are fantastic climbers, they have remarkably weak hind legs and can’t stand up straight when they move around on the ground. Instead, sloths use their front claws to dig into the ground and pull themselves along on their stomachs with their strong arms. Despite their poor adaptations to moving around on land, sloths are actually surprisingly good swimmers!
Explore more sloth videos on ARKive! And why not share your thoughts, favourite sloth images and most amusing sloth videos on twitter and Facebook, or leave a comment showing your love for sloths on the ARKive blog.
Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author