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Hold a Baby Sloth
Five facts about sloths
1. Sloths have an extremely slow metabolism
This one seems fairly obvious, but it is worth mentioning exactly how slow the metabolism actually is. As a frame of reference, it takes the average human around 12-48 hours to ingest, digest, and eliminate waste from food. Sloths can take 30 days to completely digest a single leaf. They rarely like to leave the safety of trees, though they will come down in order to relieve themselves. Fortunately for them, they can hold it all in and only evacuate their bowels once a week. Sloths can lose about a third of their body weight every time they defecate and urinate.
2. Sloth fur contains fungi and algae, for good reason
Sloths move incredibly slowly at less than three meters per minute, so their top line of defense against predators (eagles, jaguars, snakes, and poachers) is just hoping they aren’t seen. Sloth fur has two layers: an inner layer closest to the sloth’s skin that is short, fine, and provides warmth, and a coarse outer layer that has cracks, allowing for the growth of algae and fungi, which is fantastic news for the sloth. In this case, being filthy and covered in algae gives the fur a green tint, acting as an effective camouflage up in the trees.
As a bonus, researchers recently discovered that some fungi within sloth fur could have applications for fighting off certain parasites, cancers, and bacteria.
3. Wild sloths don’t sleep as much as we thought
After studying captive sloths, scientists determined that the animals slept up to 15-18 hours every day. However, a study published in 2008 utilized electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings to monitor wild sloths’ brain activity. They found that the average wild sloth sleeps about 9-10 hours a day; not much more than the average human. The researchers noted that “sleep in the wild may be markedly different from that in captivity,” and called for more research to explore all of those differences. Lack of threat of predation while in captivity is an obvious difference, though diet and other factors could be at play also.
4. Sloths have changed considerably over tim
As we know them today, all six sloth species are arboreal creatures who grow to be 50-60 cm (20-24 in) in length. Ancient sloths were ground dwellers, and some species were up to 6 meters (20 ft) long and weighed over 5 tons; similar to an African elephant. These ancient sloths first appeared about 35 million years ago and went extinct around 10,000 years ago, after humans spread throughout the Americas.
5. They are surprisingly adept at swimming
Aside from defecating, sloths will typically only leave the trees to take a swim. During the rainy season, sloths will sometimes drop from a tree into the water and then swim to another tree. Using a stroke that sort of looks like a doggy paddle/breaststroke combination, sloths can swim up to three times faster than they move on land. Their incredibly slow metabolism affords them another advantage here, as they can slow their heart rate down to less than a third of its normal rate, allowing it to hold its breath underwater for over 40 minutes.