The Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 20 – The Pygmy Three-toed Sloth

Smiling three-toed pygmy sloth Description
Surprisingly, sloth are exceptionally good swimmers.  They have been known to drop straight out of the trees into the water and move smoothly along using their outstretched limbs.  They are as much at home in the water as they are in the trees. Whereas, with their long claws, which are perfectly adapted to an arboreal life, on the ground they are disadvantaged and vulnerable to predators. 

Also known as a monk sloth or dwarf sloth, they possess an extraordinary ability to turn their heads 270 degrees, and it’s all down to one extra neck vertebrae.  The irony being, even though they may have this advantage, they are far too slow for it to benefit them in the case of predators.  In fact, they are so slow, algae grows on their fur (which is why they often appear to be green).  They are thought to have some sort of symbiotic relationship with the algae, which provides some nutrients and camouflage to the sloth, whilst the algae obtain shelter and water.

Sometimes referred to as the  ‘ai’  because of their high-pitched call, they are small, with blotchy, grey/brown fur, tannish faces and a dark forehead band.  Often, they have long hair draped over their faces.  They have also inhabited the planet for over 3.5 million years.

They spend most of their time hanging upside-down in the trees, clinging on with their powerful claws.  Which is also where they mate and give birth while still hanging upended from the branches.

Oh yes!  And, October 20th is International Sloth Day

Coastal red mangrove forests
Found only on the Isla Escudo de Veraguas;  a small island (about 5 square kilometres) off the coast of Panama
What they eat
Red mangrove leaves and cecropia leaves
Habitat destruction, increasing tourism and illegal hunting
Status: Critically endangered
With less than 500 left in the wild, and decreasing, they have been  listed by the IUCN as a critically endangered species.   Isla Escudo de Veraguas is a protected wildlife refuge within the Comarca Indigenous Reserve.  However, law enforcement is lax and visiting fisherman freely poach them.  Their coastal mangrove location coupled with their speed makes them an easy target.  Steps are being taken by the various agencies involved to change this situation.

“If we kill off the wild, then we are killing a part of our souls.”
Jane Goodall


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