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What Do Sloths Eat?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 1, 2019
What Do Sloths Eat?

There are actually different species of sloth, although they are all characterized by their lack of incisor teeth. This odd feature is shared by anteaters and armadillos. Sloths are known for spending most of their time dozing on tree branches; when they move to feed or simply change their posture, they can do so unobserved thanks to the extremely slow way they do so. Watching sloths is like watching plants grow - you just don't see it.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating mammal, this AnimalWised article will tell you all about their diet. Learn what do sloths eat, and remember that they are seriously endangered and must be protected.

Where do sloths live?

An animal's natural habitat is of key importance in determining its diet and evolution, since a species' survival depends on what they can get and digest from their environment. It's not only about variety but also about quantity; a sloth must find enough food to fulfill all its nutritional requirements.

Sloths are found in the wild in Central and South America, and they usually inhabit forests and tropical rainforests; their organism is barely able to keep their body temperature stabilized, so they require a warm environment with little climatic variation.

These mammals spend most of their time on the trees, where they can get their food just by reaching with their claws. They have very little muscular mass, so they can barely walk on their legs; this also contributes to their slow movement.

What Do Sloths Eat? - Where do sloths live?

The digestive system of sloths

Sloths' stomachs are divided into compartments; they share this characteristic with ruminants such as sheep or cows. The structure of their stomachs, as well as the microbial flora they include, are absolutely necessary to fully digest the vegetables' cellulose. The different compartments separate the food they ingest and help digest it.

A sloth's diet is rich in fiber, and its digestion can take up to a month. Because of their very slow metabolism, sloths actually need very little food.

What Do Sloths Eat? - The digestive system of sloths

What do sloths eat?

Sloths are part of the suborder Folivora. This name comes from Latin, and it literally means "leaf-eater"; this mammal basically eats leaves, flowers and tender stalks. They can get their food without leaving their homes - that is, the canopies of the tree they have chosen to live in.

An environmentally-conscious animal

Sloths seem to feel a kind of gratitude for the tree they feed on; we can see that through a very particular and ecologically-friendly behavior.

These animals come down from their trees only once a week in order to fulfill their physiological needs. Technically speaking, they could do that from the branches; however, sloths prefer to come down, dig a hole by the tree's roots, deposit their feces there and then bury them. This way, their waste acts as a natural fertilizer; sloths give back the nutrients they've taken from the tree, in a way.

What Do Sloths Eat? - An environmentally-conscious animal

A seriously endangered animal

Sloths' relaxed and slow lifestyle make it easier for illegal hunters and poachers to take advantage. This is especially true for three-toed sloths (Bradypodidae); adult sloths are often killed in order to steal their cubs and sell them as pets.

What Do Sloths Eat? - A seriously endangered animal

If you want to read similar articles to What Do Sloths Eat?, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.

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L.J.
First off, Sloths only sleep a lot in captivity. In the wild, they only sleep between 8-9 hours a day or so. Also, when they come to the ground to defecate, there is no digging, and no burying the feces before they reascend their tree. The species of moth that live on the Sloths, exist only because of the Sloths, and that is from laying their eggs in the Sloth's feces. I also wouldn't suggest calling the Sloth babies, "cubs," either. Especially if you're wanting people to take you seriously, and if you want people to trust your advice. Not everyone will tell you like this with the intention of helping you. Go check it out if you must. I've just learned much of this myself and I'm already 37. There's no shame in making a mistake. In fact, it is my opinion that mistakes should be celebrated! Because that person is improving themselves and growing as a human in that moment, right? Good job otherwise though!
valeria
what do they eat
Howard
A friend of mine said he saw a program about sloths on TV and it said that they eat some kind of medicinal greenery that slows them down . Is this correct aside from their already slow metabolism.???
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Howard,

We're unsure where your friend got this information, but he may be thinking of one of two possibilities. First is the pygmy three-toed sloth which lives off the coast of Panama. They feed almost exclusively on red mangrove leaves. There is a fungus which grows in these mangroves and scientists believes this can induce a state of sedation akin to that of a drug like Valium.

The other aspect is more general. Sloths have a four part stomach and they graze their food. They have a particularly slow metabolism, resulting in some food not being digested for a month or more. Some research suggests if a sloth is well enough fed, two thirds of their body weight might be food. This slow process means the body cannot get nutrients fast, so it acts in a way which is sluggish. It appears almost as if they are drugged, but it is just the speed at which they work.

It is possible there are other sloths which feed on a plant which has medicinal greenery with a sedative effect, but we cannot find any other specific info just yet. Please let us know if your friend can pass on any info!

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