The humble sloth – an animal that is renowned for its slowness. In fact, it’s considered one of the slowest mammals on the entire planet. But while this might be the sloth’s signature distinguishing feature, you might be astonished to learn that sloths are particularly captivating animals for a number of other reasons.
As it turns out, sloths move as slowly as they do because they’re mostly blind. The animals are thought to have lost their sight through evolution some 60 million years ago. During the day, the sunlight is so bright that these animals can’t adequately see where they’re going. Moving slowly ensures that they navigate trees safely without getting injured.
Moving slowly gives sloths a number of advantages in the wild, with the most significant being energy savings. These sluggish creatures conserve up to 90% more energy than other mammals, which means they can live on just low-energy leaves. What’s more is their movements are too slow for predators such as big birds and big cats to see, so they largely evade predation with their slow movements.
While in the trees, these animals use their incredible fingernails coupled with specialized tendons to hang from branches without tire. They hang upside down most of the time, with special valves in their circulatory system preventing blood from pooling in their heads. Moreover, they sense most of their environment through smell, a technique made easier by their impressive 270-degree neck-turning radius.
Only occasionally do sloths venture out of their protective trees, and that’s when it comes time to defecate. Due to their slow nature, these animals quite literally risk their lives from predators every time they poop. For that reason, they tend to hold their poop for long periods (up to a week), and when they do finally go, they may shed up to 30% of their body weight.
Sloths may seem slow and boring at first glance, but there’s actually a lot going on with these animals that most have no idea about. Fortunately, scientists continue to learn more about sloths while studying them.