The Sloths of Panama
February 4, 2010 12:02 PM   Subscribe

They sleep in fits and starts throughout the day, but are not so somnolent as previously thought. They can be vicious. Each one has its own personality. They are anything but slow when they need to be.

No, not MeFites; it's the two- and three-toed sloths of Panama. Researcher Bryson Voirin has a lovely set of photos on the BBC site.

Other interesting aspects of sloths: Their fur is patterned to match branches and nests, and houses a unique form of algae. One sloth's fur can house up to 950 beetles living off the algae. The fur is also home to a certain species of moth which is dependent on the sloth's descent for its life cycle.

Sloths now have a new predator to worry about. Not jaguars, eagles or people... owls.
posted by Hardcore Poser (56 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
"What are stevedores," Alex?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:06 PM on February 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Awesome.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:09 PM on February 4, 2010


My favorite sloth fact:

Sloths have claws that allow them to hang from trees effortlessly; they just hook on, and relax.

Which means that if you're out hunting, and you shoot a sloth, it doesn't fall. You have to go get it, way up in the tree where you shot it.

So most hunters don't bother shooting sloths.
posted by MrVisible at 12:10 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


That picture set was super. Thanks for this post!
posted by Monsters at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2010


Sloths are nature's Tommy Chongs.
posted by The Straightener at 12:21 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sloths now have a new predator to worry about. Not jaguars, eagles or people... owls.

As long as tortoises haven't started preying on sloths, I will remain a happy man.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:25 PM on February 4, 2010


I thought this was going to be about the recent study that says senior citizens need less total sleep.

They sleep in fits and starts throughout the day.
They can be vicious.
Each one has its own personality.
They are anything but slow when they need to be.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The sloth is my favorite animal that is also a vice. Here's a soundtrack to these links.

As for the owl, well, perhaps it sought revenge.
posted by darksasami at 12:28 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


OMG muppets are real. And just as terrifying as I thought.
posted by bunnycup at 12:29 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I once saw a sloth give birth in the Nocturnal House (scheduled to close soon) at the Seattle Zoo. Very, very slowly. It was amazing. Dad had to be taken out of the enclosure for the birth as apparently he was a threat to infant health.
posted by bearwife at 12:30 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you are ever on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, this is a must-visit.
posted by Danf at 12:31 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blue Ribbon awarded to Hardcore Poser for best use of the "slownewsday" tag! Also, sloths are cool.
posted by not_on_display at 12:33 PM on February 4, 2010


Once while canoeing in the Amazon with a guide and some friends we observed a sloth hanging precariously from a thin branch way out over the water. We paddled to retrieve the sloth so we could give it to the villagers downriver (presumably for dinner). As the guide plucked the sloth from the tree the canoe shifted and took on some water. The guide asked me to stand and hold the sloth while he quickly set to bailing out the canoe. He wrapped it around me and suddenly I was face to face with a terrified sloth. It smelled like jungle death and made a bizarre noise. And then it began to squeeze me.
It felt as thought the very life was being crushed out of me. It's sharp claws dug deep into my back as its horrible sloth face got closer and closer to my own. I started wheezing and screaming. "The sloth... the sloth is killing me! I can't breath, it's killing me!" In a panic, I waved my hands helplessly and tried to push the sloth's face away from my own. My friends and the guide began laughing hysterically. "Heeelp... guys... the slooooth...." Finally the guide pried it off me and threw it in a sack.
And from then on I repeatedly suffered the humiliating jibes of my so-called friends at our local bar, about the time when I journeyed to the rainforest only to be attacked and nearly killed by a vicious sloth.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:34 PM on February 4, 2010 [71 favorites]


seconding Danf: I've been to that sloth rescue center. It's a wonderful place.
posted by statolith at 12:35 PM on February 4, 2010


Picture number three looks like the sloth is wearing a stovepipe hat. I actually heard that damned Warner Brothers frog singing 'Hello my baby, hello my honey...'
posted by Pragmatica at 12:37 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


They are anything but slow when they need to be.

They sure get a bum rap, though. From Wikipedia:

Names for the animals used by tribes in Ecuador include Ritto, Rit and Ridette, mostly forms of the word "sleep", "eat" and "dirty" from Tagaeri tribe of Huaorani, in Brazil sloths are commonly called "Bicho-preguiƧa" ("lazy animal") because of slow movements related to their very low metabolism.
posted by ekroh at 12:39 PM on February 4, 2010


I miss the 5 ton elephant sized sloths
posted by edgeways at 12:40 PM on February 4, 2010


Metafilter: I've been to that sloth rescue center. It's a wonderful place.
posted by cashman at 12:44 PM on February 4, 2010


ricochet biscuit: ""What are stevedores," Alex?"

In Winnipeg, we'd say "What are city street workers, Alex?" (unless there were some nearby.)

Another link that didn't make the final cut: How Sleepy Are Sloths and Other Lessons Learned in Panama.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 12:45 PM on February 4, 2010


slothz r hard like a motherfukker amirite
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:45 PM on February 4, 2010


I refuse to take sides in the great Owl-Sloth war. Hasn't there been enough bloodshed?
posted by The Whelk at 12:49 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love sloths .......I love sloths!!!!!!!!!!
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Picture 5 actually made me jump.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:00 PM on February 4, 2010


More fun sloth facts
posted by rigby51 at 1:05 PM on February 4, 2010


I thought this post might be about people. Some say that in the olden days humans slept off and on throughout the 24-hr. day. And some still do (such as the linguistically controversial Piraha). Although this FAQ on polyphasic sleep is pretty cranky about the subject. I wonder why.
posted by kozad at 1:13 PM on February 4, 2010


Two-toed sloths, like the blobs of fur I'd seen in the zoo, are far and away the livelier genus. Compared with other mammals, two-toed sloths may seem dazed or drugged. But three-toed sloths in action can be compared only with plants, and even then, kudzu may be quicker. They move as if put into a trance and then filmed in slow motion. Indeed, Montgomery's predecessors in sloth research did not require radio telemetry. To test the mobility of the three-toed sloth in the wild, naturalist Hermann Tirler placed a plastic bowl on an animal's head one night. It was still there in the morning. Another time, he briefly kept a three-toed sloth as a pet: "One evening," he wrote, "we suddenly smelled something like a burning sloth, the odor coming from the neighboring room." The animal was half-asleep on a large electric bulb, with its rear going up in smoke, and according to Tirler, it wanted to stay there.
...
There is an admirable harmony in this way of life. By exploiting a variety of different trees, sloths avoid putting pressure on any single tree species. And in Montgomery's interpretation, they may actually cultivate their preferred trees. By burying their excreta at the base of the trees that feed them, they return about half of the nutritional value taken out in leaf eating.

This elegant system may be the reason sloths can get by on about one-tenth of the work load of other mammals their size. It is the reason sloths can spend their mornings dozing in the sun while the rest of the animal world wearies itself with the daily toil of getting and spending. Sloths have adapted perfectly to their environment. They have made themselves masters of digestion, champions of sleep, gurus of the pendulous, loafing life. They will survive in splendid indolence as long as humans do not destroy their habitat. And we're calling them stupid?


Man, I love sloths so hard.
posted by zamboni at 1:15 PM on February 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


This should be linked to in this thread.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:17 PM on February 4, 2010


What, no video?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:18 PM on February 4, 2010


There is an admirable harmony in this way of life. By exploiting a variety of different trees, sloths avoid putting pressure on any single tree species.

That's the two-toed sloth. Three-toed sloths feed almost exclusively on Cecropia trees, which makes them very difficult to maintain in captivity. The only one on display in the US is at the Dallas World Aquarium and Zoo, which has Cecropia trees in the parking lot. Every morning before opening his keepers take him out to the lot & hang him in one of the Cecropia trees so he can eat his breakfast, then bring him back in for display. He is a sloth after all, so he's not much of a flight risk.
posted by scalefree at 1:39 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Three-toed sloths feed almost exclusively on Cecropia trees

That's because cecropia trees are delicious! And I'm not even a sloth!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:43 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Sloth and The Moth [PDF] is a thoroughly delightful and deeply weird song I heard at a long-ago Boston Puppet Jam. And that is how I know far more about the symbiotic relationships of the greenish three-toed sloth than is appropriate or healthy.
posted by xthlc at 1:46 PM on February 4, 2010


we suddenly smelled something like a burning sloth

Wow. An odor so indescribable that the writer actually doesn't describe it!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:56 PM on February 4, 2010


In Costa Rica we stayed at a motel that had a resident sloth (I think the owners had some connection with that sloth rescue place, but I don't remember for sure). Anyway, the sloth had the run of the place but had never ventured beyond the lobby - too much work, apparently. He would hang from the rafters of the open-air lobby/dining room and occasionally go down to the shrubbery for some leaves, but it was rare to actually catch him in motion. One morning part of a giant leaf dropped onto the breakfast table. The sloth was discovered hanging overhead, the rest of the leaf still dangling from his paw; he had fallen asleep in mid-bite.

Sloths seem wildly improbable in evolutionary terms, what with nature being red in tooth and claw, but they must be doing something right. Where can I get a job like that?
posted by Quietgal at 2:07 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


And why are there no animals named Gluttony, Lust (I guess that would be the Bonobos), Greed, Envy, Wrath and Pride (there is a "pride of lions," and the peacock gets a nod in the cliche, but, still...)?
posted by kozad at 2:37 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Each one has its own personality.
They sleep in fits and starts throughout the day.
They can be fast when they have need to be.

For somnolence their notoriety
Developed, but we understand today
Each one has its own personality.

Bryson Voirin supplied the BBC
With photos that the ancient myth allay:
They can be fast when they have need to be.

Their fur is home to a unique algae,
Which to a thousand beetles they purvey.
Each one has its own personality.

Though moths rely on their languidity,
Ride them like buses to the eggs they lay,
They can be fast when they have need to be.

A lucky owl may catch one down its tree
But do not think a sloth is easy prey.
Each one has its own personality.
They can be fast when they have need to be.
posted by darksasami at 2:45 PM on February 4, 2010 [23 favorites]


I knew it had to be, and so it was:

Fuck Yeah Sloths (first pic NSFW due to tasteful, sloth-draped boobage)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:47 PM on February 4, 2010


I can never read or hear the name sloth without thinking about the Phish song "The Sloth". It just digs its claws in and never leaves.
posted by knile at 2:58 PM on February 4, 2010


Someone give darksasami a mailing list of sloth researchers, STAT: "
...
Their fur is home to a unique algae,
Which to a thousand beetles they purvey.
Each one has its own personality.
...
"

Well done.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:03 PM on February 4, 2010


Someone get darksasami a bluesy-guitar driven rock band to record that song with.
posted by The Whelk at 3:23 PM on February 4, 2010


If you are ever on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, this is a must-visit.

Actually saw a sloth up in the trees in Santa Elena (the town, not the park), where we stayed for a few days. It was way up in the trees and moved slowly from place to place. It was pretty exciting to see, along with the howler monkeys and the tarantulas.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:28 PM on February 4, 2010


I went to the Pittsburgh Zoo for the first time in years last spring, and the sloth in the monkey house was sleeping in a milk crate. At first, I thought it was just a milk crate with some dirty towels or something in it, but when I looked through my camera, I was pleasantly surprised.

Also.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was volunteering at a refuge for formerly captive animals in Bolivia when a sloth was brought in. They are incredibly cute with their (seemingly) sweetly smiling faces and this one was very docile. I was surprised that its three claws were actually fused together into one mega sloth claw. Another thing that struck me when I held the sloth was that its ribcage was flattened laterally, rather than the elongation along the sagittal plane that you see in a dog. And the fur was incredibly soft and lofty - the individual hairs stood upright and held a lot of air between them.

They gave the sloth a shot of vitamins as they do with all the animals that come in there. They planned on releasing it into the trees the next day, but they needed someplace to keep it overnight. That is how I ended up sleeping with a sloth in my room. We set up a little branch in the corner and it happily hung there as we went to bed.

In the morning, my roommate and I found the little guy on the floor, weakly rolling back and forth waving his arms in the air like Poe on a laudanum bender (but in slow motion). We quickly went to get someone who could help. The veterinarian who was there, and had administered the vitamin shot, was a young Irish guy who was trained to treat farm animals, not tropical fauna. They took the sloth off to the on-site clinic.

No one talked about the sloth after that. But we kept asking about it. Finally, they relented and told us that it had died. The vitamins were either not appropriate or in too high of a dosage. I was stunned and saddened. This mistake was the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of the mismanagement of that place. Together with my two friends who were volunteering with me, we left a couple of days before our term was up.

To paraphrase Neruda:
Sloth,
I have slept with you
all night long while
the dark earth spins
with the living and the dead,
...
Neither night nor sleep
could separate us.



Oh, and mccarty.tim? Slothvision is awesome.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 3:29 PM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Hardcore Poser, it's completely your fault for "They sleep in fits and starts throughout the day." When faced with a line like that, what can you do but write a villanelle?
posted by darksasami at 3:43 PM on February 4, 2010


HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal

"To paraphrase Neruda:
Sloth,
I have slept with you
all night long while
the dark earth spins
with the living and the dead,
...
Neither night nor sleep
could separate us."

This is truly exquisite.
posted by elmaddog at 3:51 PM on February 4, 2010


darksasami: "Hardcore Poser, it's completely your fault for "They sleep in fits and starts throughout the day." When faced with a line like that, what can you do but write a villanelle?"

You wrote it; don't make me the villanelle here.
[Badum-ching]
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:57 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The natural history museum at Harvard has a skeleton of an extinct form of ground sloth which is incredibly scary to see; it's seven or eight feet tall and has claws not unlike those of the modern sloth, but scaled proportionally. The thing looks like it's built specifically for crushing the skulls of large apes betwixt its massive paws.

The mighty, at sometime around the end of the Pleistocene, decided it was best not to rule but to sleep the day away, occasionally falling from their perches high in the trees.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:09 PM on February 4, 2010


weakly rolling back and forth waving his arms in the air like Poe on a laudanum bender

Be honest, did you laugh at him first before going to get help? Ok, that was mean. I am sorry he didn't make it.

I love sloths.
posted by Rora at 4:23 PM on February 4, 2010


My favorite sloth fact: Some people with captive sloths take them outside, hang them in a tree, and then put the hose on them to make 'em poop. Sounds easier than cleaning a dang cat box.

The don't squirt them - just let the water wash over them.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:31 PM on February 4, 2010


See, if Palin just had a pet sloth, none of this Teabaggery would be an issue.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:21 PM on February 4, 2010


Obligatory: "Fucked with the sloth, dintcha?"
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:46 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rora: Ok, I admit it; my first thought when I saw him on the floor was, "He looks so cute when he's drunk." Then I realized that there was no SlothBrew around for him to get drunk on. Then I went to get help.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 8:00 PM on February 4, 2010


Their fur is patterned to match branches and nests, and houses a unique form of algae. One sloth's fur can house up to 950 beetles living off the algae. The fur is also home to a certain species of moth which is dependent on the sloth's descent for its life cycle.

Sloths are nothing if not accommodating. That "descent"? That refers to the times when the sloth climbs all the way down the tree so as not to poop on anybody.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


(slow waltz 3/4)
"A Bradypus, or Sloth, am I,
I live a life of ease
Contented not to do or die,
But idle as I please.
I have three toes on either foot, Or half a doz. on both
With leaves and fruits, and shoots to eat,
How sweet to be a Sloth.

The world is such a cheerful place
When viewed from upside-down;
It makes a rise of every fall,
A smile of every frown;

I watch the fleeting flutter by
Of butterfly or moth
And think of all the things I'd try
If I were not a Sloth.

(Speed up to 6/8)
I could climb the very highest Himalayas,
Be among the greatest ever tennis players,
Win at chess or marry a Princess or
Study hard and be an eminent professor.

I could be a millionaire, play the clarinet,
Travel everywhere,
Learn to cook, catch a crook,
Win a war then write a book about it.

I could paint a Mona Lisa,
I could be another Caesar,
Compose an oratorio that was sublime.
The door's not shut on my genius but
I just don't have the time!

(slow waltz 3/4)
For days and days among the trees
I sleep and dream and doze
Just gently swaying in the breeze
Suspended by my toes

While eager beavers overhead
Rush through the undergrowth
I watch the clouds beneath my feet;
How sweet to be a Sloth."

Michael Flanders & Donald Swann
posted by Araucaria at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I was at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh recently I got to talking to some of the zookeeper-types there and they told me this story:

As much as possible, they like to keep the birds all grouped together in big, vaguely-natural habitats that you can walk right into. But this one bird, which hunts small snakes in the wild, had taken to attacking small children's shoelaces and it was upsetting some of the patrons. So they had to isolate it. The only question was where.

Now, they did have a room-sized cage where they used to keep a few other odd animals. There was a rhinoceros hornbill in there, which I guess didn't fit into any of the larger habitats for some reason. And there was also a sloth. I don't really know why the National Aviary had a sloth. I think someone had just donated it to them and the didn't know what the fuck else to do with it. But the rhinoceros hornbill and the sloth got along just fine, so they got to share a cage.

Anyway, the zookeepers decided that the shoelace-eating weirdo bird might get along well with the two of them. So they gave it a try, and at first it went pretty well, but after a few weeks I guess things kind of fell apart. Apparently the last straw was when they caught our friend the shoelace-eater jumping on the sloth.

And here's the thing;
  1. I'm pretty sure this is inaccurate, but when I heard that phrase, I pictured the sloth's limbs all stretchy and rubber-band-like, and Shoelace-Eater jumping up and down on the poor sloth's torso like it was a trampoline.
  2. "Jumping on the sloth" really ought to be a colorful euphemism for something, but I sure as shit can't figure out what.
  3. Consequently, every once in a while my girlfriend catches me chuckling to myself about something and she asks me what's so funny and all I can do is say Dude! Jumping on the sloth and wave my hands around incoherently.
Shoelace-Eater has his own cage now and all is well. But this is what I think about when I think about sloths. The end.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth, I knew Bryson Voirin. Only Republican in a school of about 700. He taught me that sloths have cloacae. And that's all I have to say about that.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:12 PM on February 6, 2010


Happy sloth (NSFW).
posted by homunculus at 7:13 PM on February 21, 2010


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