Sloths and Bears and Sloth Bears OH MY! – Is a sloth a bear?

A sloth bear licking termites and showing its claws
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Is a sloth a bear?

Is a sloth bear the same as a sloth?

Are sloth bears a type of sloth?

Are bears and sloths related?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit confused.

Sloth Bears are bears – not sloths

Despite the misleading name, Sloth Bears are not sloths and have no relation to sloths. They are called Sloth Bears because dear old George Shaw, a European geologist, thought that the two were related because they both have unusual teeth and long thick claws. Oh and also, Sloth Bears sometimes hang upside down from the trees. Oh and they also both carry their babies on their backs. I guess George had some good reasons…

Similarities between Sloth Bears and Sloths

Claws

Three toed sloths claws can grow to about four inches.

Sloth bears have three inch long, ivory white claws.

Babies

Sloth Bears are the only bears to carry their babies on their back. Sloth bear cubs jump on mum’s back when she walks, runs, or climbs a tree. They do this until they’re about a third of the weight of their poor old mumma

Sloths carry their babies on their backs for about three to eight months, even after they’ve been weaned.

Food

Like sloths, sloth bears enjoy eating flowers and fruit. However the sloth bear’s main source of food is termites and ants.

Sloths might devour a few ants in their lifetimes, but only because ants have a habit of living on the leaves that sloths like to eat.

Threats to their habitat

An unpleasant similarity between sloths and sloth bears is that they are both vulnerable, thanks to us humans. Deforestation and hunting are putting both of these amazing animals at risk.

Differences between Sloth Bears and Sloths

Ok, so there are a few similarities. There are, however, some major differences.

Speed

Sloth bears are fast – they can probably run faster than you. They can definitely run faster than me. Sloths on the other hand, well – they’re the slowest mammals on earth.

Location

Sloth Bears live in South Asia. If you fancy an encounter with a sloth bear (be careful not to take them by surprise, they get rather cross) then pop over to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

Sloths, on the other hand, like to hang out in Central and South America. Depending on the type of sloth you’re looking for (read about it here if you like) you’ll see sloths hanging out in their natural habitats in places like Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil.

Someone gets left off the International Day list

Lastly, sloths have their own special day – the International Day of the Sloth. October 20th each year is party day for our two and three fingered friends. Woohoo, munch on some leaves and celebrate all things sloth!

Poor old Sloth Bears though – they don’t get their own day.

A three toed sloth eating a leaf and showing its claws
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Sloths in the wild: Where do sloths live?

You’re planning your next world wide trip and want to make sure you stop in at the right places so that you can visit all the
sloths. Or maybe your friend said to you today, hey friend – where can sloths be found? and you were embarrassed to admit that you didn’t know the answer. Well, we’re glad you are here because we are on a mission to answer the very important where do sloths live question for you.

As you know (or if you don’t, it’s ok – don’t panic, you can read all about it here), there are different types of sloths in the world. So lets talk about where each type of sloth lives in the wild.

Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

If you want to visit the Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) (also known as the monk sloth or dwarf sloth) then you’ll need to book yourself a ticket to Isla Escudo de Veraguas. This is a Carribean island of the Republic of Panama which is only 4.3 square kms (1.7 sq mi). Once you’re there, find your way to the red mangroves. Hopefully then, with quite a lot of luck, you’ll find one of the remaining Pygmy Three-Toed Sloths in the world. In 2012 it was estimated that only 79 existed. This means, of course, that they are critically endangered.

Map of the areas that pygmy three toed sloths live
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Brown-Throated Sloth

The Brown-Throated Sloth  (Bradypus variegatus) is a three-toed friend who prefers to hang out in the neotropical ecozone of Central and South America.

The most common and widespread of the three-toed sloths, it can be found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and eastern Peru. People have thought they’ve seen Brown-Throated Sloths north of the Amazon Rainforest and east of the Rio Negro – but most likely those poor sods had them confused with the Pale-Throated Sloths (they do look very similar, we can’t blame them too much).

Covering such a large area, it’s not too suprising that the Brown-Throated Sloth can be found in lots of different environments. Dry forests, evergreen ones – even natural areas that have been messed with by humans. 1200m (3,900ft) is about as high above sea level as they’ll get, but some adventurous individuals have been found up even higher.

Map of where Brown Throated Three Toed Sloths live
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Maned Three-Toed Sloth

In the 1950s,The Maned Three-Toed Sloth (Bradypus torquatus) could be found in the Bahia coastal forests of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo. Now, thanks to deforestation and hunting, they can only be found in the Atlantic coastal rainforest of southeastern Brazil.

Maned Three-Toed Sloths like it wet. They live in areas with no dry seasons, and annual rainfall of at least 120cm. However, as they don’t mind munching on quite a range of leaves, they can also be found in semi-deciduous and secondary forest.

Area map of Maned Sloth
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Pale-Throated Sloth

The Pale-Throated Sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) lives in tropical rainforests in northern South America. More specifically, have a look for them in Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil (north of the Amazon River), Guyana and western parts of Colombia and Venezuela.

Pale Throated Sloth Area Map
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Linnaeus Two-Toed Sloth

The Linnaeus or Linne’s Two-Toed Sloth (Choloepus didactylus) live in the tropical rainforests of Colombia, Guyanas, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil (north of the Amazon River). It is possible that they also live in parts of Bolivia. If you see some on your travels there, please be sure to let us know.

Map showing where Linne's Two Toed Sloth live
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Hoffmann’s Two-Toed Sloth

The Hoffmann’s Two-Toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) live in tropical rainforests ranging from sea level up to about 10,800 ft, or 3.3km, above sea level. They are actually separated into two different areas of Central and South America, divided by the Andes. One group can be found ranging from western Ecuador up to eastern Honduras. The other group inhabits the areas of western Brazil, eastern Peru and northern Bolivia. I wonder if they have different accents.

Hoffmans Two Toed Sloth Area Map
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A sloth’s diet: What do sloths eat?

Sloths were in to the slow food movement well before any humans. Such trendsetters!

My name is Eater, Leaf Eater

If you’re looking for the answer to the question what do sloths eat? then you really just need to look to their name. Sloths belong to the suborder Folivora – which literally means leaf-eater. Considering they spend their days hanging among the leaves, I guess they have a pretty convenient diet.¬† Leaves, flowers and stalks are a sloth’s food of choice. And perhaps the occasional unfortunate ant who failed to jump off the greenery in time.

No more thanks, my compartments are full

Sloths have a very low metabolic rate along with a low body temperature. This means that they really don’t need to eat very much at all. In fact, about a handful of leaves a day will keep them satisfied.

Sloth’s stomachs are divided into compartments, similar to cows and sheep. This allows them to fully digest¬† all the tasty cellulose they consume. Still, it takes them about a month to digest their food.

All those leaves sitting around digesting for so long adds up. About two thirds of a sloth’s body weight is the contents of its stomach.

50 shades of trees

A lot of information on the internet will lead you to believe that sloths eat the leaves of the Cecropia tree only. But actually they can enjoy the flavours of over fifty types of tree from the tropical rainforests of America.

The Sloth Conservation Foundation actually got quite cross about the way a scientific study was reported recently. Articles implied that sloths will be just fine as long as we keep planting Cecropia trees. According to the Foundation, that’s innacurate and dangerous.

Because sloths only eat such a small amount, and can eat from quite a wide range of trees, planting more cecropias is not going to make up for the fact that the sloth’s habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Sloths are at more risk of power line electrocutions, dog attacks and being hit by cars than they are of going hungry. Therefore – please stop cutting down the rainforests thanks very much.

Hoffman's Two Toed Sloth in a Cecropia Tree
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Eats shoots and… rats?

I think I’m going to need to see some footage of this to believe it (although actually watching this would be pretty unpleasant)- but apparently two toed sloths will eat bird eggs, rats and mice in addition to leaves. How in the heavens do sloths catch rats and mice? Sloths – the slowest mammals in the world. Sloths – who move so slowly you can’t actually tell they’re moving. I’m confused. Stay tuned on this one, I need to find out more.

Moths: a sloth’s personal chef

Did you know that sloths and moths love hanging out together? It’s true.

Scientists were curious as to why sloths expend so much energy, and risk their lives, by travelling down to the ground to poop. Why don’t they just let them drop from above? They put themselves at risk of being eaten by predators when they’re on the ground. Why do it?

Well one theory is that they risk their lives for their friend the moth. Sloth dung is a nursery for certain types of moth. When the moths hatch, they fly straight back up into the trees to find some sloth fur to live in. Having a bunch of moths in your fur leads you to grow algae – which helps to camouflage you with its greenness, and also provides a very nutritious and no doubt delicious snack.

This theory is questioned by some – as sloths in captivity, who do not need moths or algae to survive, still poop on the ground. Perhaps it’s got more to do with a sloth’s dating life. Marking the tree might let other sloths know that a fertile female is hanging around waiting for you upstairs.

And the question we all must answer on a daily basis – do more or eat less?

Spoiler alert – sloths chose the latter.

References

The sloth and the moth: A mutually beneficial relationship

This is the horror sloths go through every time they have to poop

Sloths need more than just cecropia for survival

Welcome to Hanging with Sloths!

Hello, and thanks for hanging out with us here!

Sloths are adorable, huh?

You’re here because you’ve been lured by their irresistable charm. That grin. Their eyes. Those fingers.

That’s how they sucked me in too. But there’s more to sloths than their good looks. So much more. And that’s why Hanging with Sloths exists. Because you’re not shallow. You love sloths for their whole being, not just their glorious outward appearance.

Science loves sloths too!

The more you start to look, the more fascinating you realise sloths are. They are basically furry ecosystems that hang from branches. There’s stuff in their coat that could hold the cure for diseases. That’s more than you or I could say!

Yet sloths are in danger. Endangered. It’s not ok. And together we can figure out how to help them (and maybe indirectly help ourselves as a result).


Hang with us, and help our friends the sloths.

Education is always the answer. So let’s educate ourselves. And while we do that, it’s totally ok to geek out over how cute they are. Or even how cute that particular pair of shoes with sloths on them is. Because wearing sloths is totally spreading awareness, right?

If there’s anything you’d like to know about sloths, please comment below and I’ll do my very best to find the answer for you.

All the best,

CJ
hangingwithsloths.com