Happy International Sloth Day! Or is it International Sloth Day? Sources seem confused about when this glorious holiday occurs. My sloth calendar declares it to be October 22, while National Geographic claims it’s October 20. But by golly, who really cares? These adorable yet goofy animals deserve to be celebrated every day!
And just for the occasion, I’m going to share with you something very special and dear to my heart: pictures I took of sloths while studying abroad in Costa Rica. Sloths are my favorite animals, so visiting the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica was an absolute must. All of the images here come from that visit. To make it a little more interesting, I will draw from my (disconcertingly large) pool of slothy knowledge and share with you six facts you may or may not know about these incredible creatures.
1. Two-fingered and three-fingered sloths are quite different.
As their common names imply, the two-fingered sloth (the Choloepus) has two fingers on their arms (but three on their feet), whereas the three-fingered sloth (the Bradypus) has three fingers on their arms. But there’s more to it than that. The Bradypus looks like a bandit and has darker, more wiry-looking fur. The Choloepus has a pig-like snout and can possess fur in a variety of colors, from pale blonde to brown to red. Additionally, the Bradypus is more diurnal, whereas the Choloepus is more nocturnal.
2. Bathroom visits are a weekly ordeal.
One of the more curious aspects of sloths are their bathroom tendencies. Once per week, they risk life and limb by descending to the bottom of their trees to defecate/urinate. Why do they do this? There are a few theories. One involves the moths that live in their fur. These critters lay their eggs in the sloth’s feces, and when they hatch, they move into the fur. As the moths die, they decompose and help algae grow on the sloth’s fur. This provides camouflage. However, Becky Cliffe, a researcher at the Sloth Sanctuary, disagrees with this theory, positing instead that sloths spread their pheromones through body waste. Using one spot to…uh…drop the load makes the pheromones easier to detect.
3. The Choloepus’s ears look like this.
Who would have thought?
4. The fungi in sloth fur can fight cancer and diseases.
A study published in early 2014 extracted fungi from the fur of Panamanian sloths. The results were stunning: such organisms can fight illnesses like malaria, a certain type of breast cancer, and Chagas Disease.
5. Babies cling to mom for up to a year.
As if they couldn’t be any cuter, one of the sloth’s instincts is to cuddle. From birth until about one year of age, they latch onto their mothers. That’s why orphaned and abandoned sloth babies are given stuffed animals at the sanctuary; they need to hug something.
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6. They move slowly because of their diet.
Clocking in at a speed of about three meters per minute in the trees, the sloth is the slowest mammal in the animal kingdom. But contrary to what their name implies, that isn’t the case because they’re lazy. It’s the case because they’re primarily leaf-eaters. The limited nutrition derived from this diet slows down their metabolism, forcing their movements to follow suit, lest they deplete their energy.