S is for Sloth
Two-toed sloth by Marie and Alistair Knock on Flikr.
There are six species of sloth, some two-toed and some three-toed, and they are all very endearing creatures, with their perpetually smiling mouths.
Sloths of course are well known for spending large amounts of time asleep, and for moving very slowly, and there are reasons for this.
They eat a small amount of twigs and fruit, but mainly leaves, which require a long time and a lot of energy to digest. As a way of conserving energy they have a slow metabolism, and also a low body temperature.
They only urinate and defecate once a week, climbing down their tree to the ground to do so – this puts them at great risk, as all their limbs end in sharp, curved claws so they cannot walk or move nimbly.
They spend long periods completely still in the trees, and their fur is home to algae that turns them green – this helps camouflage them. Because they cannot move quickly it is imperative that they should be disguised to predators. And deep in their algae coated fur, they are also home to a special species of moth.
Scientists have long been studying just why sloths only go to the loo once a week, and climb down their tree at great risk to do so, and why they have moths in their fur.
Scientist Jonathan Pauli, Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, thinks he has the answer. He has postulated that it is because the moth helps the algae to grow in the sloth’s fur, as its droppings provide nutrition and fertiliser. The algae protects the sloth from predators – and so the sloth goes down to the bottom of the tree to defecate and the moths use the dung to lay their eggs on.
So the moths lay eggs in the dung which fly up and populate the sloth’s fur.
The fur is then a good substrate for algae that turn the fur green in the sun and camouflage the sloths.
Thus everyone is happy!
Four of the six living species of sloth are not endangered, but the maned three-toed sloth from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the pygmy three-toed sloth, from a small island off the coast of Panama, is classified as Critically Endangered.
Photograph © as above.
Poem © Liz Brownlee
If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.
If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.