Monday, May 14, 2007
On a recent trip to my favorite pet store, the owner was showing off a furry little creature that was brand new to the store. It looked a bit koala, a bit ape, and nothing like what I’ve ever seen before. This animal was a sloth.
Now the only time I ever heard of a sloth was in the "Ice Age" movies. But the talking animated version of a sloth was nothing like the real mammal. Although the sloth wasn't for sale, the owner was caring for it and displaying it in his store for a while. What is a sloth?
The sloth is a slow-moving mammal that lives in trees. Sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside-down from tree branches; they eat, sleep, mate, and give birth upside-down in the trees. They hold onto tree branches with strong, curved claws that are on each of their four feet.
Male sloths are solitary, shy animals. Females sometimes congregate together. Sloths are nocturnal; they are most active at night and sleep all day.
Sloths are plant and fruit eaters with a thick brown coat and are about the size of a cat (roughly 2 feet = 61 cm long). They have a short, flat head, big eyes, a short snout, a short or non-existent tail, long legs, and tiny ears. Sturdy, curved claws are on each foot; they use these claws to hang from trees. Some sloths have colonies of green algae encrusting their fur, both adding to the camouflage effect and providing some nutrients to the sloths, who lick the algae.
Sloths have a low metabolic rate and a low body temperature (91°F). This keeps their food and water needs to a minimum. Sloths have small molars which they use to chew up their leafy food. Their stomach has many separate compartments that are used to digest the tough cellulose (a component of plant material that they eat).
Sloths are hunted by jaguars, harpy eagles, and people. A sloth's main forms of protection are its camouflage (greatly increased by the coating of algae growing on its fur) and its very slow movement; these adaptations make it virtually disappear in the rain forest canopy.
They only rarely venture to the ground and walk on the ground in an upright position. It only goes to the bathroom about once a week. The animal, so as not to be heard by their predators, will come down from the tree in order to excrete wastes.
Adult females produce a single baby each year. They give birth upside down hanging from a tree branch.
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