Sloth – the slowest mammal that smiles
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Sloth – the slowest mammal that smiles

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    Sloths are medium-sized mammals that are included in the families: Megalonychidae, meaning “two-toed sloth”, and Bradypodidae, as in “three toed sloth”, both of them classified into 6 species. 

Sloth, slowest mammal,smiling mammal, Panama E.T, weirdest creatures, curved claws,fur with green algae

They also belong to the order Pilosa, which means that they have the anteaters as close relatives. All sloths are arboreal and they are spread mainly in the jungles of Central and South America.
    The sloth is considered one of the weirdest creatures in the world. Mainly because, as its given name implies, the sloth was always thought to be amongst the most somnolent animals on earth, spending a good amount of its time sleeping or resting between 15 and 20 hours every single day.
When awake, the sloth remains motionless most of the time. It spends nearly its entire life hanging upside-down in the treetops! Moreover, the sloth moves so slow that, even at top speed, it can only reach approximately 1 mile of terrain in 4 hours.
Due to its extreme sedentary traits, even algae start growing on its hairy coat, that’s why the sloth tends to be tinted green. Also, this mammal only reacts slightly or maybe not at all, to whatever is going on around them. If it were to fire a gun right beside one’s head, this peculiar animal would just turn around really slowly, and mildly blink.
According to William Beebe, an American naturalist who studied a sloth by following it for a whole week in the wild, that sloth spent 10 hours perching, 11 hours eating, 18 hours moving slowly and the rest of hours sleeping, more precisely 129 hours! Another amazing fact about these creatures is that they seem almost always happy because their mouth is shaped like a smile.
Sloths bear a thick brown furry coat, a bit greenish as well, and have the size approximately as that of a cat, more exactly about 2 feet, as in 61 centimeters in length. Their head is rather small and flat, they have also big eyes, a snout that’s short, and a short tail too or even absent, long legs, extremely small ears and sturdy, and on every foot they possess curved claws. 

Sloth, slowest mammal,smiling mammal, Panama E.T, weirdest creatures, curved claws,fur with green algae

Basically, they utilize these claws to hang from tree branches. Moreover, only these specific claws are used for defending purposes. A trapped sloth has the ability to swipe the ones that attack it by struggling to frighten them away or by injuring them. Although the sloths may appear to be defenseless, predators aren’t a major threat to them.
When sloths are up in the trees, they have two basic skills and traits, such as a great camouflage and the fact that they’re moving slow represents, in fact, an advantage of theirs as they will not attract any unnecessary attention. On the other hand, in case they come down from their trees, they actually become vulnerable, but they rarely do this.
    There are sloths that have in their fur formations of green algae, which provide them a better camouflage effect as well as several nutrients, and because of this reason they lick the algae when grooming. Their fur displays specialized functions. Unlike other mammals, they have body hair that grows in an inverse direction.
In almost all mammals, the outer hairs grow towards the extremities, but due to the fact that sloths spend a lot of time with their legs held up, above their bodies, their hairs don’t grow in that way in order to supply them with a protective cover from elements, while they’re found hanging upside-down.
Sloths are quadrupeds, meaning that they are four-legged animals; however they move upside-down by clinging along tree branches. They only visit seldom the ground and proceed walking on it by adopting an upright posture.
    Sloths have made impressive adaptations to a tree-dwelling lifestyle. They possess very big, specialized, stomachs that function slowly and have many compartments in which symbiotic bacteria decompose rugged leaves.
Male sloths are characterized by solitude and shyness, meanwhile females sometimes gather together. Most three-toed sloths are diurnal, while the two-toed ones are nocturnal.
These mammals only start moving when they find it necessary and even when choosing to do so, they have a very slow pace. Sloths possess approximately half muscle tissue in comparison with other animals with same weight.
They have the ability to move at a slightly increased speed in case they’re facing a direct threat from a predator, about 4.5 meters, as in 15 ft, per minute, but they waste huge quantities of energy if they resort to this. From time to time, sloths continue to hang from branches even after they’ve died because they spend too much time in the trees, at least that’s what National Geographic said. Due to their claws and muscles, the sloth’s grab is so powerful at times that when they’re out of breath, they still remain clinging to the exact same branch they were lingering from when they were fully alive. When they’re on the ground, their maximum speed consists in 1.5 meters, as in 5 ft, per minute.
Usually, they walk between 15 and 30 centimeters, as in 0.5 or 1 ft, per minute.
Sloths are somewhat partial to making nests in the palm trees’ crowns as they have the capacity to camouflage themselves as coconuts. They only climb down from their trees once a week in order to urinate and defecate by hollowing a hole and concealing it after they’re done.

    Even though their relatives inhabited North America, today’s sloths are found in Central and in the northern parts of South America, in countries like Columbia, Peru, Brazil and Venezuela. The three-toed sloths are distributed throughout Central America and have a larger range in South America, occupying almost all the upper half, considering a great portion of Brazil too.
They choose to live mainly in the rain and cloud forests because they search for tropical trees that have dense crowns. Sloth pay attention to just how much time during a day the highest canopy of a tree is exposed to the sun’s hot rays. The sloth will place itself into the sun in order to warm up and after that it will return into the thick leafage, and stay there as much as it takes to cool down.
Sloths only inhabit the rainforests as this is the single place where climate changes just a bit and the weather conditions assure the perpetual growth of the flora they consume.
    According to the San Francisco State University Department of Geography, the brown throated three-toed sloth necessitate a habitat in which the trees are placed close to one another so that the sloth can have the possibility to shift from a tree to another without having to venture on the ground for a long amount of time, the least the better or none at all!
The explanation for this is that even though the sloth is great at climbing through trees, it doesn’t actually do a great job on the ground. The sloth can stay for several days hanging from tree branches, but it is really helpless on land. The animal has a muscle mass so small that it isn’t able to walk, which ultimately forces it to drag itself around when descended. When it comes to this, the sloth is at the mercy of any predator that is out there, such as the ocelot or the jaguar.
On the other hand, the maned three toed sloth inhabits the Atlantic coastal area of Brazil where, however, it encounters the effects of human activity throughout the forest. This particular species of sloth is endangered as it is facing the problem of habitat loss due to forestation. Its natural environment has lost a large number of trees for lumber and the obtainment of charcoal.
People wipe out the land in order to raise cattle and grow plantations, breaking up the forest and dividing sloth populations from one another, causing breeding between these sloths to be nearly impossible or, at least, very difficult.


Sloth, slowest mammal,smiling mammal, Panama E.T, weirdest creatures, curved claws,fur with green algae

When it’s a rainy season, the sloth starts to mingle with its natural environment and this is due to that coat of algae that it has. Furthermore, sloths are actually really great swimmers! They swim in waterways that are found right beneath some of the trees they’re hanging onto in order to get to other venues. The sloth will jump directly from branches into the water, and even apply a breaststroke (like humans, yes!) and swim across its depths before going up into another tree.

    Sloths are regarded as folivores or herbivores because they feed on leaves, twigs, buds, fruits and, from time to time, they eat also insects and rodents. Nevertheless, sloths can eat from more than 50 distinct types of tree throughout the tropical rainforest of America, but they prefer the most the cecropia tree! This particular tree is growing at fast speed and offers buds and juicy leaves for them to consume.
Unfortunately, inside the cecropia tree lives also the Azteca ants, which have the custom to acquire food from it too and defend it in the same time from all strangers, without making an exception out of sloths. When sloths consume cecropia leaves, they also ingest these types of ants. Moreover, sloths have the ability to eat leave from any position!
Anyway, although the cecropia tree is their favorite source of food, the ants protect them very well; therefore sloths have to find another tree to feast from. Whenever they do this, they inevitably ingest many different types of insects, such as caterpillars and eggs. Furthermore, the sloth’s diet might be composed of taking in tiny insects like fruit flies, to which they’re attracted and, thus, they catch these fruit flies for their sweet thickness.
    The three-toed sloth’s diet typically relies only on the jungle foliage and the bugs that are included in it. When it comes to the two-toed sloth, this one isn’t a picky eater; it can resort to any kind of food that comes in its way. These types of sloths eat also bird eggs and little mice, and rats, only if they can put their claws on them, that is.
Also, two-toed sloths consume dry food, and an abundant supply of various vegetables and fruits, especially grapes, which they prefer the most.
As they’re mammals, the sloth requires water in its body system in order to last. However, sloths aren’t inclined to drink water by themselves. They basically gather their water from the tree leaves that they’re eating and, like this, they stay self-sustained for the most period of their lifespan, which has been estimated to be long as 25-30 years.
However, sloths possess a low metabolism and also a low body temperature, more exactly of 91° Fahrenheit. This maintains their food and water requirements to a lower limit. These mammals have tiny molars that are utilized for gnawing all sorts of leafy foods. The sloth’s stomach has a lot of divided compartments for digestive purposes, mainly for the though cellulose they often consume.
Furthermore, this digestive process of theirs can last as much as a month or even more than this to finish. Yet, leaves offer a small amount of energy and sloths handle this through a variety of economy measures. Sloths have extremely low metabolic rates, more precisely less than half of their size, and uphold low body temperatures when they’re active, as in 30°C to 34°C or 86°F to 93°F, and have even lower temperatures when they’re perching.

    Female sloths give birth to a single baby within a year, but  because sloths don’t move that often, it may take them more than a year to find a male. Courting begins when a female shouts a mating call to announce the males from around that she’s prepared for mating. Sloth males will fight each other by clinging from tree branches with their feet and pawning. The one who wins will mate with the female.
Sloths mate in trees and the female gives birth to the baby sloth when she’s hanging upside-down from a branch.
    Baby sloths usually cling to their mother’s fur from the belly, however, sometimes they fall off. Because they’re built in a very sturdy manner, they seldom die from this, though. At times, their death is caused indirectly from the fall, when their mothers don’t want to leave the safety provided by the trees in order to recover the baby sloth.

    Approximately 10,000 years ago, ground sloths like Megatherium used to inhabit South America and also in most of North America. However, they vanished along with lots of other animals when the humans came along in these continents. There’s proof which indicates that the American megafauna became extinct due to human hunting, more precisely the megafauna of Australia, Madagascar, far northern Asia and New Zealand.
Also, the climate change that occurred when the last ice age ended may have had an effect also for some. Even so, the ground sloths that survived on the Antilles until roughly 5,000 years ago suggest  that human activities represent the main cause of extinction.
According to the IUCN Red List, short for the International Union of Conservation for Nature, today the only critically endangered species are the pygmy three-toed sloths and their population is diminishing. Also, the maned three-three toed sloths were also mentioned to be endangered and decreasing. The remaining 4 species are marked as “Least Concern” and their population status is “Unknown” due to lack of data.
These 4 species consist of pale throated three-toed sloth, brown-throated sloth, Hoffmann’s Two-toed sloth and southern two-toed sloth.

Interesting facts
• As sloths’ body is just 25% of muscle tissue, they aren’t able to shiver to warm themselves up when it’s cold. That’s why their natural habitat is favorable to them and their furry coat too. However, unfortunately, at times, they have to go through cold weather in the forests. In this case, if a female is extremely cold, she can’t digest food anymore. Furthermore, if she has a baby to nurse, she may even die due to starving.
• Although it’s a true fact that the two-toed sloth has just two claws on its front limbs, it’s also true that it possess three claws on its hind-limbs like the three-toed sloth has. So, this signifies that the two-toed sloth has two fingers, not two toes!
• Did you know that once a group of teens confused a sloth with an alien? They happened to come across one in the Cerro Azul area of Panama City and they were so frightened that they even beaten it up. This creature was dead and had pale naked skin. It became the “Panama E.T.” when the news spread over the internet, starting all sorts of theories about its nature and origin, especially of it being an alien or an unknown species.
However, a biopsy of the creature proved that it was a three-toed sloth, which had died earlier in the river and because of the long exposure in the water, its hair fell off and, as a result, the skin remained nearly translucent.
• There are sloths that have in their fur formations of green algae, which provide them a better camouflage effect as well as several nutrients, and because of this reason they lick the algae when grooming. Their fur displays specialized functions. Unlike other mammals, they have body hair that grows in an inverse direction.

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Published by Claudia Barbu


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