Eating Habits of a Three-Toed Sloth

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Three-toed sloths' long limbs and torsos cause them to look somewhat like monkeys. However, sloths, with their lengthy, rib-like claws, are more closely related to anteaters. In fact, the three-toed sloth is one of the planet's slowest mammals, moving so little that algae grows in its bushy coat, giving it a greenish hue that provides camouflage as the animal sleeps and eats in the trees.

Treetop Dining

Three-toed sloth varieties spend their lives in the canopies of the South and sometimes Central American tropical rain forests they call home. Their strong limbs and claws afford them the luxury of clutching to and hanging from tree limbs for days at a time. There, some sloths clock in 15 to 20 hours of sleep a day. When they are awake, their arboreal lifestyle offers them limited choices in food, and so, as herbivores, they eat whatever plant matter is available to them in the trees.

Finding Food

Finding food might not seem easy for a three-toed sloth; the animals are notoriously handicapped when it comes to both seeing and hearing the world around them. What's more, because the sloth spends the majority of its day sleeping, it feeds at night, making its poor sense of sight almost entirely useless. Still, three-toed sloths manage to forage for and consume a handful of different foods, including leaves, fruits and shoots. They likely accomplish this solely through the use of smell and touch.

Nutrition and Digestion

The metabolism of a three-toed sloth is markedly lacking, as is its ability to regulate its own body temperature. This is perhaps one reason these animals spend so much of the daytime hours sleeping: Three-toed sloths use sun exposure to help stabilize their body temperatures and, in turn, digest their food. The teeth of the three-toed sloth are entirely peg-shaped and are used to grind the massive amounts of vegetation the animal needs to make up for the relative lack of nutritional value of the foods it finds in the treetops.

Hydration

Because it takes so long for three-toed sloths to digest their food, they rarely need to make bowel movements. (On average, a three-toed sloth defecates every eight days.) The need to relieve themselves, however, is one of the few reasons these animals will descend to the forest floor. That said, spending more than a week in the trees leaves very few opportunities to find water, and so these sloths hydrate themselves almost exclusively by eating fruits and juicy leaves.

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    Author

    Ruth Nix began her career teaching a variety of writing classes at the University of Florida. She also worked as a columnist and editorial fellow for "Esquire" magazine. In 2012, Nix was featured in the annual "Best New Poets" anthology and received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award for excellence in teaching from the University of Florida.