The Secret Sloth


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The leafy greens aren't very nutritious, so they have to conserve as much energy as possible to survive—and that means moving less. As a bonus, their slow movements help them go unnoticed by predators that rely on sight to hunt down prey, like jaguars, ocelots, and harpy eagles. Sloths are arboreal creatures, so they spend almost all of their time in trees.

The secret to living upside down, according to sloths

They eat, sleep, mate, and give birth while hanging upside-down—a feat made possible by their anatomy. Their internal organs are anchored to their abdomen, which shifts weight away from their diaphragm and lets them breathe more easily, and therefore expend less energy. Three-inch claws also help them latch onto branches and stay suspended far above the forest floor. In fact, their innate ability to cling to branches is so strong that dead sloths have been found dangling from trees, lending new meaning to the phrase "death grip.

As a consequence of their slow metabolisms, sloths poop once a week—and sometimes just once a month. Two-toed sloths often let 'er rip from the trees, but three-toed sloths follow a bizarre routine that has baffled scientists. They typically make their way down to the forest floor to relieve their backed-up bowels, and once they get there, they do a little "poo dance" while digging a small hole to defecate inside. Without the camouflage afforded to them by the foliage of the forest canopy, sloths are much more likely to be picked off by predators.

About half of all sloth fatalities occur when they're on the ground, most likely doing their business or finishing up. So why do they do it? It might have something to do with sex, and marking a tree for a potential mate to find. When they do poop, their turds tend to be massive.

If you put the contents of a sloth's bowel movement on a scale, they might weigh up to one-third of the animal's body weight. This is percent larger than what scientists would expect to see in an animal of the sloth's size. Oddly enough, though, sloths don't fart. So there's that. Sloths have a symbiotic relationship with algae.

Studies have shown that algae is sometimes passed down from a mother sloth to her baby, and the transfer is mutually beneficial for both animal and plant. The sloth's long fur creates a cozy home for the algae—which readily absorbs the water they need to thrive—and the sloths get a coat of green-tinted fur that doubles as camouflage. Sloths also eat the algae, which provides a much-needed source of nutrients.

Females get the courting process started by letting out a loud, high-pitched scream to let male sloths know she's ready to mate. Researchers are unsure on the particulars of sloth courting or copulation, or even if males will fight for the right mate with the screeching female or if any fights are territorial instead.

Whatever the details, the ensuing gestation period is between five and six months, and then the female sloth will birth one baby sloth, which is—uninterestingly—just called a baby sloth.

The Secret Why Sloths Appear To Be So Lazy And Slow

This special talent puts three-toed sloths in the same category as many owls. In both species, this Exorcist -esque ability can be attributed to their bone structure. Sloths have extra vertebrae at the base of their necks that let them look in all directions with ease.


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Although sloths aren't great at defending themselves, they can at least see when danger is approaching. On average, sloths live to be about 20 years old, but some species can live longer in captivity.


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  8. The world's oldest sloth —a female of the Hoffman's two-toed variety named Miss C—died last year at the ripe old age of She was a lifetime resident of Australia's Adelaide Zoo. Fight or flight are cited as the two most common responses animals have to immediate threats.

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    But there's a third reaction that will seem familiar to anyone who's seen a "dead" possum spring to life: In the face of danger, some animals will enter a tonic state as a last-ditch shot at survival. Assuming a vulnerable, motionless position may seem like the worst way to get out of an emergency situation intact—but "playing dead" can be a life-saving behavior. According to World Atlas , feigning death, or thanatosis , is most often used as a strategy to avoid becoming a meal.

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    When some animals feel threatened, their systems become overloaded with fear and they enter a coma-like state. If a predator is looking for live prey and finds an apparent—and possibly diseased—corpse instead, it may lose interest, leaving its would-be victim to live another day. Some animals do more than flop onto the ground to turn off predators. Opossums sell their performance by releasing a foul odor during thanatosis that suggests they've been rotting for days. The southern hog-nose snake uses a similar, smelly defense mechanism while laying motionless, and has also been known to spit up blood, according to National Geographic.

    Some creatures change their appearance in a tonic state: The undersides of the fire-bellied frogs of Asia and Europe flush bright orange and yellow to signal to predators that they're toxic. Thanatosis is also used as a way to get closer to prey, though such cases are rare. Playing dead can also be used as a mating strategy. Their number crunching suggested that a fully upside-down sloth would use up to 13 percent more energy than normal to breath if the adhesions weren't there.

    Given sloths' low-energy diets and slow metabolisms, every little bit of energy counts, and these organ anchors are probably key to balancing the animals' energy budget. Cliffe and her team also think that not having their organs jostle around could also help sloths avoid energy costs while hanging in odd positions to reach out-of-the-way food.

    They can also see a potential downside to the adhesions, though.

    The extra tissue could cost sloths' flexibility in the abdomen, making their slow, plodding movements not just a consequence of their metabolism, but also of their anatomy. View this article on TheWeek. What the condom of the future might look like. The new bride who had a horrifying allergic reaction to her husband's sperm.

    The Sloth's Evolutionary Secret

    Search News Search web. Matt Soniak. Sleeping like an upside-down log. SEE ALSO: How triangles revolutionized mapmaking Now remember that sloths hang from the bottom of tree branches, gripping them with their arms and legs while either partially or completely upside-down. SEE ALSO: How I learned to love the evil-looking earwig When Cliffe and colleagues dissected a pair of three-toed sloths that had died of natural causes at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, they found that these tissue bands connected the animals' livers and stomachs to their lower ribs, and anchored their kidneys to their pelvises.

    What to Read Next. Associated Press. Yahoo News Photo Staff. Good Morning America. Yahoo News Video.

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