Description: The Brown-throated three-toed sloth is mostly grayish-brown in color. The round head is slightly darker than its body. The eyes are small, the black nose is blunt, teeth are peg-like and the small ears are almost invisible. This disheveled- looking animal has an off-whitish face with a darker stripe across the brow that is highlighted by brown stripes running through the eyes – giving the appearance that it is smiling. Males have a large patch of short orange fur with a brown center stripe on their backs. The front limbs are much longer than the hind ones and because of an extra vertebrae in the neck, the three-toed sloth is said to be able to rotate its head nearly 2700. Thick, long shaggy fur grows toward the sloth’s spine, allowing it to shed water when hanging upside down. Shorter, finer fur grows underneath the outer fur. Green algae grow in microscopic notches and grooves in the hair. It is believed the algae are food for certain species of insects such as moths, beetles, caterpillars and mites living in the scraggly hair. The green appearance given by the algae help hide the sloth from predators. The three-toed sloth has three claws on the front limbs which are used for defense, if needed. Sloths are relatives of anteaters and armadillos.
Size: Adults average 2-2.5 feet (0.61-0.76 m) in length; 8-14 pounds (3.6-6.4 kg) in weight.
Behavior: Sloths are considered to be the slowest land mammal in the world. The sloth’s diet, low rate of metabolism and small amount of muscle mass for generating and retaining heat, all contribute to the slow mobility of the sloth. These nocturnal and diurnal animals spend most of their time hanging from branches in the middle layers and tops of trees or sitting in the forks of tree limbs. They choose trees with exposure to the sun in order to thermoregulate their bodies by more exposure to the sun when cold and moving down into the branches when hot. This life style is interrupted by an infrequent trip to the base of their tree to urinate and defecate. Because of the anatomy of their limbs, sloths have difficulty standing and are unable to walk like most mammals. On the ground, they move by dragging themselves with their front limbs. They are good swimmers, with an overarm stroke.
Diet: Foraging is largely by smell and touch. They primarily feed on leaves, shoots, twigs and buds of trees pulled within reach of the mouth (folivores). The Cecropia tree may be a favorite, however, many other plant species are included in their diet. They have a large, multi-chambered stomach containing bacteria that allows for fermentation and break down of cellulose into starches and sugars. It is reported that food may be digested for a month before moving into the short intestine. The sloth’s stomach, (with adequate space for storing and processing large amounts of difficult-to- digest food) when full, may weigh approximately one- third of its body weight.
Senses: Sloths have poorly developed senses of hearing and sight (recent studies suggest that sight may be better than previously thought). Foraging is largely by smell and touch.
Communication: Silence is a means of protection, however, the female calls out with a shrill whistle, described as an “a-ee, aee” sound when trying to attract a mate.
Reproduction: Sexual maturity is reached at two to three years of age. Gestation may last up to seven months. A single offspring is born each year. Males do not participate in the care of the young. The mother sloth carries the baby on her stomach, where it nurses for about six weeks. After six to nine months, the young can feed itself and live on its own.
Habitat/range: Found in tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America.
Status: IUCN Least Concern; CITES Appendix II.