The Pygmy Three Toed Sloth was only quite recently declared to be a new species.
In 2001 scientists made this decision, mainly because the pygmy sloth is such a little cutie – with little being the operative word.
How big are pygmy sloths?
Pygmy sloths are about 40% smaller and lighter than their sister species, the Brown Throated Sloth. They are also approximately 15% shorter.
Their length is 48 – 53 cm, and they weigh between 2.5kg – 3.5kg. So teeny!!
Where do pygmy sloths live?
The only place in the world that you will find pygmy three toed sloths is on a little island called Isla Escudo de Veraguas. It is the furthest outlying island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, which is a chain of islands that was separated from Panama, due to rising sea levels, about 9000 years ago.
Isla Escudo de Veraguas is only 4.3 square kms in area (1.7 sq miles)
The other islands in the Bocas del Toro archipelago are home to sloths who are also smaller than average. But it’s only on Isla Escudo de Veraguas that the sloths have been deemed sufficiently small to be classified as a separate species.
This island is also home to species of hummingbirds and bats, that can be found nowhere else.
Up until recently, it was thought that the pygmy three toed sloths only lived on the red mangroves on the outer edges of the island. However, a biologist named Bryson Voirin placed radio collars on 10 sloths in mangroves and then tracked them for a period of three years. 3 of the sloths stayed in the mangroves. 5 moved out of the mangroves and hung out in some other tree species at the mangroves’ edge. 4 adventurous pygmys travelled as far as 200 meters inland. Quite a distance if you’re a tiny little slow moving sloth!
What lives on pygmy sloths?
A pygmy sloth’s coat is home to just one type of green algae, the Tricophilus species. This algae gives the little pygmy a nice green tinge, which comes in handy as a camouflage.
But it is also home to almost 40 other creatures! This is more than any other species of sloth has crawling around in its fur.
What do pygmy three toed sloths eat?
Pygmy three toed sloths eat the leaves of the red mangrove trees (Rhizophora mangle). No other sloths eat this kind of leaf.
The red mangrove leaf is not great, nutritionally speaking, and it’s also quite coarse.
What do pygmy sloths do?
The pygmy three toed sloth lives in trees, and spends about 15-20 hours a day hanging around in them.
On the ground, they’re realllllly slow. Clocking in at 0.24km hour, they’re one of the slowest animals in the world.
Put them in water however, and boy do they go!!! (Not really, but they are about three times faster in water). Pygmy sloths do seem to like to swim more than any other sloth, and they’re the only sloths that swim in salt water. Roughly a third of a sloth’s body mass is the contents of its stomach. Because leaves generate quite a lot of gas while they’re being digested, sloths are actually a bit like a pool floatie – the air inside them helps them to be bouyant!
Are pygmy three toed sloths really different to their bigger cousins?
Some researchers believe that pygmy sloths are really just a smaller version of brown-throated three toed sloths.
Are pygmy sloths endangered?
In 2012, only 79 pygmy three toed sloths were found living on Isla Escudo de Veraguas. This has resulted in them being listed as critically endangered. The majority of these 79 sloths were found living in the mangroves at the edge of the island. It is hoped that there are actually more living in the forests further inland, where they are much harder to see and track. Due to the difficulties involved in finding animals in dense rainforests, biologist Bryson Voiring actually estimates that the population is more likely to be between 500 to 1500. Even so, this is still an extremely small number for a whole species of animal.
Living an isolated existence on a little island has resulted in inbreeding, which means the genetic diversity of the pygmy three toed sloth is ever decreasing.
Tourism development is also a threat to this species. There have been proposals to develop a marina, casion, hotel and airstrip on the island.
Although no people actually live on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, indigenous people from Panama often camp there to fish. They cut down trees for their huts and firewood, and also eat sloths when they don’t catch enough fish. As mangrove trees are cut down, gaps in the canopy appear. This means the sloths have to travel on the ground more often and this puts them at risk of being eaten by feral cats and other predators. Although the Panamanian government has listed Isla Escudo de Veraguas as a National Park, it doesn’t enforce laws about cutting down the mangroves. Biologist Bryson Voirin believes that unless this changes, and the pygmy three toed sloth is given some more protection, they may only have a few years left on this planet.