What is a Sloth?

   Sloth is a common name applied to any of several arboreal mammals belonging to the order Edentata, which inhabit the tropical forests of South and Central America. They are divided into two groups: the three-toed sloths of the genus Bradypus, among which is the ai, B. tridactylus, of South America, and the two-toed sloths of the genus Choloepus, among which is the unau, C. hoffmanni, of Central America. Sloths are usually about the size of a small dog. The flat, short head has large eyes, a snub nose, and rudimentary ears. The entire body is covered with grayish-brown, short hair. The tail is rudimentary.

   Sloths are very long-lived. They spend their entire existence hanging suspended from the boughs of trees with the legs and face turned upward and the back downward. The limbs are long and well developed, and ter­mínate in long, curved claws which hook over and grasp the bough from which the animal hangs. The forelimbs are longer, better de­veloped, and more mobile than the hind-limbs. The animal moves by advancing one limb at a time in slow and deliberate fashion. Sloths rarely, if ever, voluntarily descend to the ground and when placed on the ground they lie on their backs or crawl with the greatest difficulty.

Sloths sleep during the day, curled up with the feet drawn close together and the head placed between the forelimbs. In this position the animal resembles a stump of a bough and is relatively well camouflaged from the assault of natural enemies such as jaguars. An encrustation of green alga which forms in the hair of some species and makes them indistinguishable from the surrounding foliage and moss affords additional protection.

   The animal is habitually silent but sometimes utters a low, plaintive call. It feeds chiefly on foliage and shoots which it gathers with its slender, prehensile tongue. Each year the female produces a single off-spring which clings to the mother until it can take care of itself.