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All About Sloths

Updated on July 28, 2014

Facts About Sloths

Sloths are amazing mammals that have adapted to life in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America. Although sloths move slowly, they are not lazy or unintelligent. In fact, these adorable mammals have found numerous clever ways to survive in the wild despite vicious natural predators and extensive deforestation. Their survival strategies have been so successful that only two of the six sloth species are endangered.

Here you'll find pictures and videos of sloths, information about the world's only sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, sloth coloring pages and interesting facts about sloths, including what sloths eat, where they live, how they raise their babies and what sort of now-extinct creatures they evolved from. Once you've read all about sloths, be sure to take the sloth quiz!

Image Credit: Carol Schaffer

Three-Toed Sloth in Costa RIca
Three-Toed Sloth in Costa RIca

Types of Sloths

Two- and Three-Toed Sloth Species

Linnaeus's Two-Toed Sloth (Choloepus didactylus):

This two-toed sloth is larger and faster than its three-toed relatives and has a longer snout. Linnaeus's sloth is found primarily in parts of northern South America, including Ecuador, Colombia Peru and northern Brazil.

Hoffmann's Two-Toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni):

Hoffmann's sloth, which closely resembles its two-toed relative, inhabits tropical rainforests in both Central and South America. This sloth can be spotted from Nicaragua to Ecuador and in parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

Maned Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus torquatus):

This sloth, named for the long black hair that surrounds its small head, is found only in southeastern Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests. Formerly endangered due to extensive deforestation, the maned sloth is currently considered vulnerable.

Fun Sloth Fact #1: Despite their physical similarities, two- and three-toed sloths are not closely related.

Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus):

Weighing as little as five pounds, the pygmy sloth is the smallest of any sloth species. It inhabits a single Panamanian island (Isla Escudo de Veraguas) and has been spotted only in the island's red mangrove forests. Due to its incredibly limited natural habitat, the pygmy sloth is critically endangered.

Pale-Throated Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus tridactylus):

The pale-throated sloth can be found in northern South America, particularly Guyana, Venezuela and northern Brazil.

Brown-Throated Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus):

The most widespread species of three-toed sloths, the brown-throated sloth can be found in many areas of both Central and South America, including Honduras, Peru, Costa Rica and Brazil.

Fun Sloth Fact #2: Pale-throated sloths, brown-throated sloths and maned sloths have extra neck vertebrae that allow them to rotate their heads approximately 300 degrees! That range of motion is greater than any other mammal species on the planet.

Image Credit: Jenny Jozwiak

Three-Toed Sloth
Three-Toed Sloth

Where Do Sloths Live?

Tree-Dwelling Mammals

Sloths are arboreal, which means they spend the majority of their lives in trees. Trees, particularly those found in the lush rainforests of Central and South America, offer sloths the shelter they need to survive. Trees offer so much protection, in fact, that sloths eat, sleep, mate and even give birth in their leafy homes.

When a sloth does venture onto the forest floor, whether to use the bathroom or to relocate to a new tree, it becomes incredibly vulnerable. Why? Sloths don't have enough muscle to walk on their hind legs! Instead, the slow-moving mammals lie on their stomachs and use their claws to drag themselves across the ground.

Image Credit: Marissa Strniste

Sloths in Costa Rica
Sloths in Costa Rica

What Do Sloths Eat?

Rainforest Vegetarians

Sloths are folivores, which means their diet consists primarily of leaves. Due to the lack of nutrients found in leaves and the sloth's highly variable body temperature, digesting a bellyful of vegetation can take up to a month. As a result, sloths only have to leave the safety of their trees once per week to pee and poop on the rainforest floor.

Fun Sloth Fact #3: Unlike two-toed sloths, which feed on a variety of plants, three-toed sloths are picky eaters whose leaf preferences are pre-determined by the bacteria that live in their stomachs!

Image Credit: Jenny Jozwiak

Sloths are...

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Upside Down Sloth
Upside Down Sloth

How Slow Do Sloths Really Move?

Slow and Steady Sloths

Sloths move at an average speed of just one foot per minute and they rarely trek more than a mile each day. Why are sloths so sluggish? Well, sloths eat leaves and leaves aren't very nutritious. To compensate for their folivorous diets, sloths conserve energy by moving slowly. Another energy-saving adaptation is the sloth's lack of muscle. Sloths develop less than half the muscle of other similarly sized mammals and less muscle requires less fuel.

Because sloths are so lethargic, they can become easy targets for their natural predators, which include ocelots, eagles and anacondas. To protect themselves, sloths rely on the algae that grows in their fur. The algae tints the sloth's hair green and acts as a form of camouflage.

Fun Sloth Fact #4: Algae aren't the only creatures that feel at home on a slow-moving sloth. Hundreds of beetles and moths have been discovered in the fur of a single sloth!

Image Credit: Andrew Wilkinson

Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary
Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary

The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica

Aviaros del Caribe

Formerly known as Aviaros del Caribe, the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica is the only sloth shelter of its kind. The Sanctuary, founded by Judy Arroyo and her husband, has been rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned sloths for more than 20 years. Judy and the Sanctuary have helped educate the world about the behavior and needs of sloths, and you can help the Sanctuary continue its research by making a charitable donation via the Sloth Sanctuary website.

Want to volunteer at the Sloth Sanctuary? Due to the overwhelming popularity of Animal Planet's Too Cute! Baby Sloths videos, the Sloth Sanctuary's volunteer program has been discontinued.

Want to visit the Sloth Sanctuary? Although it is no longer possible to volunteer with the sloths, the Sloth Sanctuary now offers tours and a hotel. The Buttercup Tour, the sanctuary's most affordable option at just $25 per person, includes an hour-long guided canoe tour of the Estrella River Delta, an informational short film about sloths and the opportunity to photograph the sloths. The Insider's Tour, which costs $150 per person, includes -- in addition to the Buttercup Tour's activities -- breakfast or lunch, a private behind-the-scenes look at the sanctuary's sloth hospital and some playtime with the sanctuary's baby sloths. Rooms at the Sloth Sanctuary's hotel range from $80 to $115 per night and include a two-course breakfast.

Image Credit: Jenny Jozwiak

Would you fly to Costa Rica to visit the Sloth Sanctuary?

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Where Did Sloths Come From?

Ancient Sloth Ancestors

Sloths are believed to have evolved from either massive ground sloths or an unknown tree-dwelling mammal.

Books About Sloths - Read About Sloths

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What Do You Love Most About Sloths? - Share your thoughts!

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    • profile image

      Carmen 23 months ago

      They are my favourite animal because they take life on there own pace and I do that to

    • Meganhere profile image

      Meganhere 4 years ago

      The always look like they're smiling.

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      I was in Costa Rice and had a chance to visit the sloths, they are so cool.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      sloths saved my life

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago


    • wildsimplicity profile image

      wildsimplicity 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @Sher Ritchie: Thanks so much for featuring my lens, SRitchieable! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      They have such friendly faces and they're harmless to humans (and other animals). It's a pity they've become a synonym for "lazy" because, whilst no one could say they are athletic, they're ideally adapted for living in trees and eating leaves. Also, they're clearly sentient conscious creatures (that is they can think and have a sense of self) and they look immensely intelligent. Swinging from tree to tree isn't everything; sloths are just as appealing as (eg) small monkeys (which I also love!). Thanks for making this terrific lens; I've featured it on mine: under "U" for Unua (which is another name for sloth). Thanks for sharing.