Costa Rica Blog

The Highly Unusual Life of a Sloth

Posted by Steve Linder on Wed, Dec, 09, 2009

Sloths (locally called perezoso which means lazy) are relatively long lived, sometimes living for more than twenty years. They spend their entire existence hanging suspended from the boughs of trees. Their limbs are long and well developed, and terminate in long curved claws that hook over and grasp the supporting bough. The animal moves by advancing one limb at a time in a slow, deliberate fashion.

Sloth in a treeThe sloths body temperature drops almost to the temperature of its surroundings at night, and much like cold-blooded reptiles, the sloth needs to take in the sun's rays to bring its temperature back to normal. Sloths descend to the ground only about once each week in order to defecate. When placed on the ground they lie on their backs or crawl with the greatest difficulty.

The sloth sleeps up to 18 hours a 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 the harpy eagle. An incrustation of a 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 are pulled within reach of the mouth with typical slow movements.

Females screech to attract males, which have a bare orange patch on their back. Actual copulation has been observed to last as long as 48 hours. Females spend half of their adult lives pregnant and each year the female produces a single offspring.

Female sloths aren't very sentimental. If a baby tumbles out of the tree its calls will go unheeded. When a juvenile reaches six months of age the mother simply turns her tail on her youngster which inherits her home range of trees. You can find sloths in the cecropia trees which form one of their favorite food staples.  Sloths are another unusual animal found in Costa Rica, one of the reasons why Costa Rica is a top destination for eco tourism. 

Tags: Eco Tourism, animals of Costa Rica, Sloth, Costa Rica