Why Everyone Should Embrace Their Inner Sloth

Sloths featured on IFL Science!

Definitions of the sin of laziness have changed notably over the centuries…In the medieval period…the concept broadened to encompass all forms of sinful inactivity and workshy idleness, from neglecting everyday chores to falling asleep in church.

Images of sloth in the modern world have precious little to do with its origins in early Christian theology…What, we may ask, would a time-travelling visitor from the medieval period make of our fondness for sloths? …We could reassure our sceptical visitor that it’s possible to learn a thing or two from sloths.

They live a low energy lifestyle; they are generally peaceable; and they understand the virtues of taking your time. Any animal that takes two weeks to digest a meal could certainly teach us a valuable lesson in the virtues of mindfulness and contemplative patience. The sloth is the perfect mascot for a culture that is looking to cure itself of addiction to a hyperactive 24/7 work ethic. Now that we have rehabilitated sloths as the slacktivists of the animal kingdom, perhaps the time has come to formulate a laziness ethic as an alternative to the work ethic that has dominated our society for so long.


Temperature affects food intake in brown-throated sloths

Sloths have one of the lowest metabolic rates of any mammal, and are therefore thought to have low rates of food ingestion.

A study published by Becky Cliffe et al in April (article link here) further shows that food consumption in brown-throated sloths is significantly affected by temperature, with increased consumption at higher temperatures.

We suggest that the known fluctuation of sloth core body temperature with ambient temperature affects the rate at which gut fauna process digesta, allowing for increased rates of fermentation at higher temperatures.


Methane production…in sloths…

I wasn’t going to write up about this Journal article published in June, as the results basically confirm what is already known/suspected about sloths:

“These results corroborate literature reports on low intake, low defecation frequency [and] low metabolic rate…in other sloth species.”

But then this caught my attention:

“In spite of the low food intake and the low-fibre diet…methane production was rather high…”

So, turns out, sloths got gas.



Sloths may be a reservoir for Q Fever

Q Fever is caused by a bacterial infection, and causes flu-like symptoms, which may progress to pneumonia and occasionally hepatitis.

Whilst domestic cattle, goats and sheep are the most common reservoirs for Q fever, a new study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene strengthens the hypothesis that sloths in French Guiana may be a WILD reservoir for Q fever.

Q fever often results in abortion within domestic animals, and the researchers found a 1-2 month lagged correlation between Q fever incidence and the number of three-toed sloth births. This was also associated with the rainy season.

Poor little sick sloths!


Interactions Between a Sloth and a Brown Jay

Published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is a new observation that brown jays feast on the moths and other insects that live within a sloth’s fur.

A sloth’s fur is full of moths, insects, algae and fungi. The moths use the sloth’s travelling ecosystem to find mates and lay their eggs. The sloth also eats the algae that grows on itself as a supplement to its diet. Hence the pilfering by brown jays might not be such a welcome addition to this little ecosystem.

However, due to the abundance of parasites that also lives in sloth fur, the birds may be doing them a favour. In addition, brown jays may alert the sloth to presence of predators in the area, giving them a heads-up, as generally they are very slow to respond.

Understanding how organisms interact through natural history and descriptive ecological research can help us make important scientific advancements and practice conservation more effectively.



Read the entire article here.