Creatures of the Amazon
Tow Toed Sloth

By Mike collis


Tow Toed Sloth
Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni


Most visitors to the Amazon rainforest will have seen one at close quarters or even held a sloth. The sloths are renowned for their slow but deliberate movements but are surprisingly very agile in the tree tops moving at about 5 to 8 feet per minute. Basically there are 2 types of sloth the Two Toed Sloth and the Three Toed Sloth although there are different species within each group. Both the two toed and the three toed sloths were thought to be of the same family but there are many differences that separate them. The 2 toed is faster and bigger, has a varied diet eating leaves and fruits and is nocturnal. It has a vestigial tail and has 6 or 7 vertebrae in its neck. The 3 toed sloth is slower and smaller and feeds by day and by night. Its diet is more specialized eating only leaves. It has a stout 2.7 inches long tail and has 8 or 9 vertebrae in its neck. Both sloths have 3 claws on their hind legs which help when climbing. They have 10 teeth on the upper jaw and 8 on the lower. They also have two large blade like teeth in the front of the mouth, these are used for cutting into leaves and shoots. These teeth are not coated in enamel and are very sharp. The sharpness is maintained by rubbing them against the lower teeth.

Sloths are herbivores consuming leaves, twigs and shoots although they will sometimes eat small insects. Their stomachs have 4 separate chambers like ruminants and are full of bacteria. After feeding it normally takes between 6 and 21 days for the food to be digested. Sloths seldom drink but get fluid from leaves and dew. They are practically incapable of walking on the ground, usually dragging themselves along with their front legs. They can surprisingly however, swim very well and often drop from a tree into water and swim to the other shore. Although they have excellent camouflage they are often preyed upon by harpy eagles, jaguars, ocelots and anacondas. The indigenous people also kill sloths for their meat.

Sloths can be found in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. They inhabit areas ranging from sea level to cloud forests up to 10,800 ft. They spend most of their time in the trees and prefer trees with lianas as they provide shelter from the rain and the sun as well as giving them cover from predators. They spend nearly all of the time aloft including sleeping, eating, mating and giving birth but they never construct any kind of nest. Sloths descend to the ground to defecate once a week. Their bodies are adapted for living in the tree tops, the skeleton, muscles and joints are very strong and are well suited to an upside down life in the trees. Sloths have long curved claws ideal for climbing from branch to branch and long legs, although the forelegs are a bit longer than the hind legs. In the case of the 3 toed sloth the forelegs are about 35% longer than the hind legs. They have thick skin on the soles of their feet. Their thick fur attracts algae which in turn provides camouflage. Normally sloths weigh between 10 and 20lbs with a body length of between 21 to 29 inches.

There is no mating season as such but it seems that their sexual activity increases during March and April. Gestation is usually 10 months after which time one baby is born, usually weighing about 12 ounces and about 10 inches long. Young normally stay with their mother for nine to twelve months.

In Spanish speaking countries they are called "Perezosos".
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