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It’s Sloth Week! Time to Sloth-ings down

Sloths are an internet sensation. With their strange smiling faces, lethargic movements and awkward apparent friendliness this elusive species has become the most popular animal on the planet. This week is ‘Sloth Week’, meaning we have an excuse to talk about all things sloth and show you some of the fantastic pictures of our volunteers meeting these memorable mammals  during their time with the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project.

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

First, a little bit of history. The word ‘sloth’ comes from ‘acedia’ which is latin for a lack of emotion, which suggests that not everyone is a fan of sloths. In fact, before their recent rise to fame they had historically been the subject of much criticism. Their slow movements were compared to the laziness of man, and one of the seven deadly sins is named after these adorable animals.

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

“The sloth is the stupidest animal that can be found in the world, and is so awkward and slow in movement that it would require a whole day to go fifty paces.”

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, 1526

Sloths aren’t slow moving by choice, however, their low energy diet is actually to blame. Imagine trying to race around when you’re only eating leaves! To add insult to injury through not using their muscles they have evolved to have less muscle mass than any other mammal species of their size. Poor weedy sloths. 

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

Currently there are only species existing sloth species in the world, and amazingly only two of these species are currently under threat; the 'vulnerable' Maned sloth and the Pygmy three-toed sloth is critically endangered, as listed by the IUCN.  Most sloth species may not be threatened as they are rarely a target for predators; they are hunted only by harpy eagles, jaguars and humans. Humans have historically shown to be the biggest threat to sloth existence; the largest sloth ever to have existed was the size of an elephant and went extinct 11,000 years ago due to overhunting.

Image Courtesy of Beatrice the Biologist

Sloths are famed as ‘the world’s slowest mammals’, which isn’t surprising considering their top speed is 4m per minute, and their average pace is 2m per minute. This slowness is a consequence of the low energy diet of flowers, shoots and leaves that the foliovorous sloths depend on. Shockingly it has also been recorded that sloths occasionally eat HUMAN POO to supplement their diet, but we won’t let that put us off them.

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

Sloths only leave their resident trees once a week to use the ground as their toilet, scientists are still uncertain why they make themselves vulnerable to attack rather than simply do their business from the safety of the canopy. One theory suggests they may travel to the ground in order to let the moths that live in their fur lay eggs in their poo and continue their life cycle. No-one knows this for sure though, so for now the toilet habits of sloths remain a mystery.

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

It’s not just moths living in the coats of sloths. Sloth fur is a mini ecosystem of animals from all branches of life; beetles, cockroaches, fungi, algae and bacteria all make it their home. Although a dirty coat of moth-eaten, insect-infected fur doesn’t sound very appealing, it provides such comprehensive camouflage for the soths that they are almost undetectable in the canopy. Sloth fur isn’t just dirty, but it points the wrong way! As sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside down their fur grows in the opposite direction to most other mammals, allowing more efficient water drainage, which is useful if you live some where wet... like a rainforest.

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

So what do you think? Are sloths weird yet wonderful or just plain strange? Celebrate the end of sloth week by tweeting us what you think at @FrontierGap on twitter.

Image Courtesy of Frontier Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project

By Becky Salen

If you fancy some sloth cuddles, why not check out our Costa Rica Animal Rescue Project or look at our website for more opportunities to get close to other fantastic creatures.

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