Sloths are an animal that you probably don’t spend all that much time thinking about, which doesn’t seem fair considering it’s the only animal that constantly moves in slow-motion, therefore making everything it does look supremely badass. So to correct that, here are 10 lesser known facts about the world’s most lackadaisical animal.
10. Experts have trouble finding sloth penises
Almost every creature on Earth displays at least some degree of sexual dimorphism between the sexes, with the male and female of any species tending to look somewhat different. This isn’t the case for sloths, however, and both male and female sloths look so alike that even seasoned sloth experts often have trouble finding their penises because they’re so small.
We know this because there have been multiple, confirmed examples of zoos around the world ordering a breeding pair of sloths from the cutest derivative of Amazon we can imagine only to find that they’re either both male or both female. Along with being a problem for the sloths because some members of the species are critically endangered and they need to get their pork on, we can’t imagine it helps their self-esteem to know that they all look alike to the people paid money to study them. Before you feel bad for a sloth, just remember that they also, on average, have sex for half an hour at a time, so while they may not be the most well endowed animals, they sure as hell know how to put their mighty sloth wangs to good use.
9. They can walk off 50 foot drops, very slowly
It’s a common and rather insulting misconception that sloths sometimes fall out of trees because they mistake their own limbs for tree branches, grab them, and due to their chill-ass attitude fall to their deaths before they can save themselves. This isn’t true, and even if it was it would, in all likelihood, never bother the sloth anyway.
To be clear, we aren’t saying sloths don’t fall out of trees (every animal makes mistakes, after all). We’re saying that they possess remarkable regenerative abilities that mean they can walk off most injuries, albeit very slowly. Sloths are exceptionally hardy creatures considering their reputation, and can comfortably survive falling from the tops of trees without injury, usually reacting with nothing more than mild surprise that they just took a header at 80 MPH.
8. They’re one of few animals to have been given a C-section
Now we know we just said that sloths can survive falling out of trees, but obviously there are exceptions to this and in 2014 one such exception occurred with a pregnant female sloth in Costa Rica. According to the BBC, the animal (identified as a brown-throated sloth) sadly fell from the canopy of the rainforest and suffered severe brain damage as a result. The vet attending to the sloth, Sam Trull, refused to euthanize the animal upon realizing it was pregnant. Instead, in a pioneering, first-of-its-kind operation, he delivered the sloth’s baby via C-section.
Sadly, both mother and baby passed away a short while later despite the best efforts of Trull and her medical team. You may be wondering why on Earth we’re telling you this, because it’s all kinds of depressing in an article full of cute pictures of sloths, so here’s a quote from Trull about why this surgery was a success in her eyes that might also help you get through the day:
“Ultimately it’s not the quantity of life that counts but the quality. I’m glad he had a week, and that he had some snuggles with his mom. I was at least able to unite mother and baby before they died, so it might not have been a very long life but at least it was a life.”
7. They’re faster in water than on land
Sloths, as their name suggests, have a reputation as a slovenly, lazy creature that sleeps for more hours of the day than an unemployed cat. This isn’t entirely fair, for starters because research has shown that sloths sleep for only around an hour more than we do per day and because in water, sloths are surprisingly agile.
Specifically, most sloths are noticeably faster in water than they are on land and are such adept swimmers they’ve been observed intentionally dropping from trees to dive-bomb straight into the water. Meaning sloths are also technically faster at moving through the air than they are along the ground.
Sloths have been known to swim miles in search of both food and lady sloths, with one notable sloth lothario being observed swimming across a not insignificant patch of ocean to find his soulmate.
6. It uses poor hygiene as camouflage
Sloths, unlike many animals, tend not to groom themselves all that much and are noted as being so filthy and indifferent to their own cleanliness, algae and mold grows all over their fur to the point some members of the species literally turn green. This, as it turns out, is a deliberate tactic on behalf of the sloth to blend in, as the green tinge the algae and mold gives their fur makes for an effective natural camouflage.
Three toed sloths in particular are especially prone to the algae infestations, which it turns out is a deliberate and beneficial symbiotic relationship between the two organisms. In fact, some species of sloth are so reliant on algae for camouflage that mother sloths will intentionally allow their own babies to become infected with it so that they can blend in more effectively with the brush and treetops. Otherwise we’re assuming other creatures would think that the sloth baby was simply floating in mid-air, clinging to a nondescript patch of green.
5. Thanks to a unique adaptation they can rotate their heads nearly all the way around
Perhaps one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that mammals all evolved from a common ancestor many eons ago is that almost every mammal on Earth has seven vertebrae in their neck. Yes, even giraffes. One apparent exception to this near universally observed rule of nature are sloths, which for reasons scientists can’t quite explain, have more.
This allows most sloths to turn their heads an astonishing 270 degrees, enabling them to see directly behind them without moving their entire body like most other mammals need to. It’s commonly thought that this quirk of evolution came about so that sloths, which spend most of their time upside down, could observe their surrounding without expending too much energy. However, a hole in this theory is that although all sloths have extra vertebrae, not all of them can turn their head in this way because their necks are too muscular. As a result, it’s not clear if the fact sloths have these extra vertebrae is a quirk of evolution or a deliberate response to a threat from countless millennia ago. Still, we thought you’d enjoy the image of sloths turning their heads like the girl from The Exorcist with that big dumb grin they always seem to have plastered all over their faces.
4. They can’t shiver or gain weight
Although sloths are neither the fastest or strongest animals in the rainforests they call home, they are among the most well adapted to survive, which is ultimately the most valuable trait to have. To explain, sloths have an incredibly slow and efficient metabolism that allows them to near fully absorb the nutrients from the food they eat. In addition, sloths can seemingly alter their metabolism at will, slowing it to the point they can put off needing to breathe for upwards of half an hour. This is another factor that makes them highly efficient swimmers.
Although having such a slow metabolism allows sloths to subsist on a diet of just a few leaves a day and poop just once every week, it does mean they can’t shiver to regulate body temperature. This doesn’t appear to be an issue for most sloths as their thick fur (likened by some to that of an animal from the arctic) combined with the fact the rainforest rarely gets that cold mean they’re often comfortably toasty most of the time.
One other side effect of the sloth metabolism is that the animal never really puts on weight, with the only place known to contain fat on a sloth’s body being it’s feet. Meaning yes, the only thing sloths ever need to feel self-conscious about is having chubby ankles.
3. Individual sloths enjoy different kinds of leaves
We don’t often think of animals being picky eaters and for the most part, they aren’t. It’s just not conducive to the survival of an animal to be picky about what it eats unless it has an almost infinite supply of food or, like us, can simply pick up a phone and have it droned to their location. Sloths seem to be a curious exception to this, partially because they kind of do have a near unlimited source of food.
Leaves in the rainforest are so plentiful that an individual sloth could never hope to possibly eat them all and even when trees shed their leaves, there’s invariably another tree right next to it with like 80 million more just waiting to be eaten. Because of this, individual sloths tend to have a taste for particular leaves. To be clear, we don’t mean different kinds of sloth seem to prefer different kinds of leaf, we mean that individual sloths from the same species have been observed having a preference for one kind of leaf over another. Furthermore, this preference seems to be passed down from mother to child and young sloths will tend to eat the same leaves as their mother as they mature and venture out on their own, much in the same way most adult humans prefer the kind of ketchup or bread they had as a kid.
2. They don’t need to drink
As a result of the exceptionally efficient metabolism mentioned earlier, sloths don’t really ever need to drink because they’re able to absorb all the water they need by simply licking leaves. This isn’t to say sloths can’t drink, and they can and will drink from any puddles of water they happen across. It’s just that they don’t need to.
For anyone currently feeling jealous of the sloth’s ability to get by on a handful of leaves per day, it should be noted that sloths can technically starve to death with a stomach full of food if their body cools too much to allow the bacteria in their stomach to break down the food it has eaten. So while their metabolism is highly advanced and superior to our own in many ways, it’s not perfect.
1. They need your help, to keep dry
Sloths don’t want much from life and need very little to stay happy. Some leaves, a safe place to poop, and perhaps a pool of water to cannonball into every now and again to impress sloths of the opposite sex is all they really need to be content. Or so we all thought, because according to the Wildlife Conservation Society they need one more thing: raincoats.
Yes, according to the WCS, sloths in the rainforest need little raincoats to keep dry as they’re too slow to get out of the rain and their thick, matted fur means they find it hard to dry off once it stops. They believe this so much that on April 1, 2017 they launched a campaign you can donate to, to ensure no sloth in the rainforest ever gets wet again after their researchers discovered that the rainforest is, to their surprise, rainy.
You’ve probably guessed by the date the video was released that this was a joke; however the sentiment behind it is quite serious. There are only six kinds of sloth in the world and of those, one is critically endangered and one is listed as “vulnerable” so keeping these slovenly little guys safe is a top priority for activists, if only so we can one day learn their techniques for maintaining such epic levels of chill.