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Are Sloths Dangerous? (Explained)

Happy sloth

 

Sloths are a common favorite animal thanks to their generally relaxed nature, their adorably flat faces, and their long, branch-like arms.

These jungle dwellers spend their days eating, sleeping, and occasionally coming down to the jungle floor when they need to use the restroom.

Although sloths have been deemed so lazy that their name has become synonymous with being lazy, they are still wild animals that could become frightened and attack at any moment.

 

Are Sloths Dangerous?

Cute sloth hanging on tree branch with funny face look,

 

Yes, sloths can be dangerous when they are provoked.

Although they may seem gentle and sweet, sloths have the potential to attack at any moment and have not been properly domesticated like dogs, cats, or horses.

Sloths have an evolutionary desire to remain alone for the majority of the time, with the only exception occurring during mating season.

If wild sloths were to be social animals that need to be around other animals, it would only increase their chances of being attacked by one of their predators like the harpy eagle.

Sloths are considered to be prey animals, which is why having a human being walk up to them slowly and stare them down makes these animals feel threatened.

Nothing about a sloth’s normal life gives social interactions a positive connotation in the minds of wild sloths.

To defend themselves, sloths will use their massive teeth and powerful jaws to easily bite through a human being’s hand.

Not only do sloths come with incredibly strong jaws, but their entire body is also composed of powerful muscles.

Sloths are much stronger than human beings.

Even though they are vastly smaller, humans only have a third of the strength of these tree-hugging creatures.

Another factor that makes sloths so dangerous is the fact that it is nearly impossible to read their body language for signs of distress.

When a sloth is afraid or feels that danger may be near, they completely freeze up.

Sloths may seem too slow to do any damage or too gentle to want to be aggressive, but sloths are still powerful wild animals.

Once these animals reach their independence age of 18 months old, sloths become less social and more likely to attack.

Sloths are adorable creatures to view from a distance, but they shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

Are Sloths Endangered?

Common Sloth on jungle

 

Yes, there are two endangered species of sloths out of the six different species of sloths that are currently living on the planet.

Between a loss of habitat and intense poaching caused by the illegal pet trade, the pygmy three-toed sloth and the maned three-toed sloth populations are both suffering.

A majority of sloths live in the rainforests of South and Central America.

These areas have been slowly destroyed for generations in the name of creating farmland and logging.

The only way sloths are able to survive in the wild is by relying on the lush trees of rainforests for protection and as a constant food source.

Without plenty of trees, wild sloths are unable to hide from the predators that soar through the sky and walk the jungle floor.

Since sloths are anti-social creatures that rely on their small numbers to keep attention off their hiding spots, fewer trees mean fewer sloths.

Although sloths have been losing their rainforest homes for decades, the more recent problem for sloths has been the illegal pet trade that operates on a global level.

Since sloths are incredibly slow, there is no way for them to outrun the humans who want to hunt or capture them to be sold as pets.

A majority of the sloths that are poached aren’t hunted for their meat because sloth isn’t a popular meal.

Instead, these wild sloths are finding themselves becoming pets for untrained and unqualified owners.

In the wild, a sloth can live for around 20 years.

Poaching has caused intense stress for sloths, causing them to fall into the hands of ill-intentioned humans and patient predators watching the humans hunt.

Although the fate of sloths has been called into question, organizations such as The Sloth Conservation Foundation and the Rainforest Alliance have stepped up to limit the amount of habitat loss and poaching.

 

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloth Reaching For Branch

 

Sloths move slowly due to their leafy diet that doesn’t provide the proper number of calories needed for an animal of the sloth’s size and strength.

By moving slowly, sloths are able to conserve how much energy they’re using.

There was a time when the ancestors of modern sloths walked along the ground and had powerful legs.

About 11,100 years ago during the last ice age, giant sloths would get on their hind legs to eat the leaves off of trees and weighed about 7.7 tons.

Modern-day sloths have found the perfect habitat in the warm, moist climates of Central and South American rainforests.

By living in these types of climates, sloths are able to save even more energy by not having to spend any energy to keep warm.

Unlike most mammals, sloths lack thermo-regulation.

This requires them to stay in warm climates to prevent their muscles from tensing up like lizards on a cold day.

Although their lack of thermo-regulation means that they can conserve more calories, it also limits where they can live even within Central and South America.

Sloths have to live somewhere warm and moist, meaning that moving higher into the mountains could never be an option for most of the sloth species.

The only species of sloth that has been able to adapt to higher elevations is the two-toed sloth.

Another way sloths conserve their energy is by mother sloths not storing their milk for their young.

Rather than feeding their young like cows or humans, a sloth’s milk comes out as soon as it’s created.

Baby sloths stay attached to their mother’s nipple and patiently wait for the milk to be dispensed.

Unlike other mammals, sloths also don’t run or jump. Instead, they rely on the gentle system they’ve sent up within their native habitats.

 

Are Sloths Primates?

Three Toed Sloth

 

No, sloths are not primates despite how similar they may look and behave to monkeys and apes.

Sloths are considered to be members of the superorder Xenarthra, which is a subset of unique mammals found throughout the Americas.

Other animals in the Xenarthra superorder include armadillos and anteaters.

Although these animals may look nothing alike, they also share the same trait of having a single set of teeth that lasts them throughout their entire lives rather than having baby teeth that fall out later in life.

Some of the other traits that all members of the Xenarthra superorder share include unique joints on their spines, the ability to only see in one color, and extremely low metabolisms.

The one attribute that separates sloths and anteaters from armadillos is the fact that they have hair, earning their places in the Pilosa order.

Aside from their looks, an attribute that separates anteaters from sloths is their diets.

Sloths are mainly herbivores who only eat small lizards and insects on occasion, whereas anteaters are mainly carnivores thanks to the insect-based diet they are named for.

The reason sloths aren’t considered primates is because sloths lack the proper brain capacity and hands with five posable fingers.

Rather than having hands with fingers, a sloth relies on its clawed paws to help it to climb trees.

Sloths also have a much smaller brain-to-body ratio than any species considered a primate.

While primates and sloths share their strong arms and love of trees, primates are much more dexterous and have a much stronger sense of agility.

Although the giant sloth looked similar to a bear, the only animals that sloths are related to are anteaters and armadillos.

The major ancestors of the modern sloth include the megatherium, megalonyx, and the nothrotheriops.

 

Can You Legally Have A Sloth As A Pet?

Awake Sloth

 

Yes, you can legally have a sloth as a pet with a permit in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Texas.

You can also legally own a sloth as a pet in South Dakota, but you will need additional permits and certifications.

Although some states may allow you to own sloths as pets, it is important to remember that other states have banned the owning, boarding, or even carrying sloths across state lines.

This makes cross-country travel with a sloth impossible to do legally.

The only sloths that can currently be owned as pets are two-toed sloths, and those require an intense amount of training and education.

When given the proper diet and habitat, sloths can live up to 30 years in captivity.

Although you are legally allowed to own a sloth as a pet, that doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.

Unlike traditional species of pets like dogs or cats, sloths have not undergone the multi-generational process of domestication and still have many of their wild animal tendencies.

By nature, sloths don’t appreciate any time of human interaction and this anti-social behavior only becomes more intense after they’ve reached maturity at only 18 months old.

Even for the most experienced exotic pet owner, owning a sloth is a difficult task and may not be considered ethical.

Another reason you should avoid owning a sloth as a pet is that the majority of sloths come from unethical sources that have illegally poached them from their native rainforests.

Any source that claims to sell three-toed sloths is operating illegally and putting the sloths’ lives at risk.

Like any exotic pet, sloths are expensive, costing anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 if they were captive-born.

 

Do Sloths Smell Bad?

Wild two-toed sloth hanging on tree

 

No, sloths don’t smell bad because nearly all sloths are incapable of sweating or creating any type of body odor.

Their scentlessness works as a defense mechanism that keeps their predators from finding their hiding spots among the canopy of trees.

The only type of sloth that can sweat is the two-fingered sloth, which can only release sweat from the tip of its nose.

Rather than having their own distinct scent, sloths try their best to blend in with the smells of the rainforest.

The idea that sloths smell bad most likely comes from the fact that sloths allow algae to grow on their fur and typically have plenty of bugs growing inside their thick fur.

Although it may seem gross, the algae that grow on sloths is being studied as a potential cure for cancer in humans.

The most predominant type of algae to grow on sloths is Trichophilus welckeri, which can only be found in sloths’ fur.

Sloths are able to allow this type of algae to grow on their fur because of how slowly and gently they move.

This algae and sloths share a symbiotic relationship, in which the sloth gives the algae shelter while the algae serve as an extra food source for the sloth and an extra layer of camouflage.

The algae also serve as a good source of water and allow sloths’ fur to remain hydrated even after a lifetime of not bathing.

Trichophilus welckeri is transferred between a mother sloth and her offspring within the first few weeks of their offspring’s life.

This type of algae can be found in the fur of all six species of sloths.

Although sloths may not be the most traditionally clean creatures on the planet, they are one of the least smelly animals.

 

Do Sloths Sleep All Day?

Happy Sloth

 

No, wild sloths only sleep eight to 10 hours per day, and sloths in captivity tend to sleep much more often thanks to the ease of living in captivity.

For decades, sloths have been seen as the laziest animals on the planet, and researchers have been trying to help them shake these old myths.

In 1942, the sloth was considered to be “the lowest form of existence” by some scientific authors, but modern scientists have realized that there is so much more to sloths than meets the eye.

Sloths may be slow-moving creatures with lifestyles that require plenty of patience, but their unique approach to survival has allowed the species to live on even as they’re facing habitat loss and poaching.

One of the reasons it was originally believed that sloths slept for much longer than they actually do is that wild sloths will find their favorite spots to sleep and return to them regularly.

This sleeping pattern previously fooled researchers into believing that a sloth had not moved for several days.

Another hurdle that researchers had to get over when discovering the true behaviors of sloths is learning how to watch them in nature while not allowing them to notice the human beings nearby.

A majority of sloth sleep studies have occurred while the sloths were in captivity.

Although it may take a while before sloths realize they’re safe in their zoo or sanctuary enclosures, they come to recognize that they no longer have to worry about gathering food, regulating their temperature, or staying alert to predators.

If a sloth does not have to do something, it will choose to preserve its energy and sleep the day away.

Even when sloths are in the wild, it’s difficult to tell when they’re actually sleeping.

 

Are Sloths Full Of Parasites?

sloth, three toe juvenile playing in mango tree

 

No, sloths are not full of parasites and don’t suffer any additional parasites that most wild animals suffer from.

Although sloths’ fur is known for being filled with insects, these insects are not considered parasites because they share a symbiotic relationship with the sloth.

The majority of bugs that live in a sloth’s fur don’t cause the sloth any kind of harm.

Instead, they act as an additional food source for hungry sloths.

Sloths may have managed to befriend friendly insects, but they are still capable of carrying some parasites.

Coccidia parasites are commonly found in sloths and a variety of both captive wild and domesticated animals.

These parasites can cause anywhere from mild to severe cases of diarrhea, appetite suppression, and dehydration.

Another common parasite found in sloths is Eucestoda, which is more commonly known as the tapeworm.

These long, string-like parasites are capable of living in the digestive tracts of sloths for upwards of decades and can lead to diarrhea and extreme weight loss.

Just like any other furry mammal, sloths are known to get ticks, such as the Amblyomma varium.

However, sloths are known to be less prone to ticks than other species of mammals thanks to their low body temperatures.


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