Why are sloths so slow?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - The Directory - Becky Cliffe

ACon­ven­tional wis­dom has it that sloths are sim­ple, lazy crea­tures that do lit­tle other than sleep all day. It seems as­ton­ish­ing that such an an­i­mal sur­vives at all, but the fact that sloths have been around for some 64 mil­lion years shows that be­ing slow must be a win­ning strat­egy.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, sloths only sleep for 8–10 hours a day. They do move, but very slowly and al­ways at the same, steady pace. In fact, ev­ery­thing about sloths is slow. They have the slow­est me­tab­o­lism of any non-hi­ber­nat­ing mam­mal, sur­vive on a low-calo­rie diet and take ap­prox­i­mately one month to di­gest a sin­gle leaf. Con­se­quently, sloths phys­i­cally don’t have the abil­ity to move very fast. And with this, they can­not de­fend them­selves or run away from preda­tors. In­stead, their sur­vival is en­tirely de­pen­dent upon cam­ou­flage, and mov­ing slowly is a great way to blend in with the rain­for­est canopy. Sloths’ main preda­tors – big cats and birds – all pri­mar­ily de­tect their prey vis­ually, and the sloths sim­ply move at a pace that doesn’t get them no­ticed.

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