Sloths are just one of the animal species that live in rainforest habitats found around the world. This is an odd animal that has developed equally as interesting traits to help it live in this type of environment.
More than one type of sloth thrives in rainforests. Both the two-toed and three-toed sloth call rainforests home. While they share many of their adaptations, a few are different.
9 sloth adaptations in the rainforest
There are multiple adaptations that have helped sloths thrive in rainforests throughout the years. These features help them survive a harsh environment while staying safe from predators.
1. They have giant claws
Sloths have massive long claws, which help them climb and hang onto trees. These giant claws are one of the traits people recognize most about these rainforest animals, and this adaptation allows them to thrive in the unique environment.
The claws are also curved, making it easier to grab onto trees and hang from branches. Two-toed and three-toed sloths both have these kinds of claws, but the two-toed sloth only has two on its forelimbs while the three-toed has three.
2. Long limbs to help them climb
In addition to long claws, sloths have long limbs that help them move and climb through rainforests. Despite these long limbs, sloths have trouble moving well on flat land. They can get around better through the trees by moving from branch to branch.
A sloth’s arms are longer than its legs, one of the most unique features of this animal. Sloths found today adapted from ground sloths, which could easily walk on land. These animals can also spend hours hanging upside down from branches.
3. Sloths have protective fur
Rainforests have unique types of climate and weather, so animals that live in these habitats have had to adapt certain patterns and coats to survive. Sloths adapted thick coats of protective fur, which is one of the main reasons they have been able to thrive for so long. They have an inner and outer layer of fur, with the outer being the thickest.
These layers grow in opposite directions, which is because of how often these animals are found upside down. The way the outer layer grows let’s rainwater roll down them when hanging upside down.
This thick fur stays wet in the rainforest environment, which lets algae, moss, fungi, and more grow on these animals. This also offers another protective layer to keep sloths safe.
4. They are nocturnal
Sloths spend 14 to 16 hours sleeping, and are usually only awake at night. These animals are nocturnal, and spend a majority of their waking time eating or moving.
Sloths like to be active during dawn and dusk as well. Two-toed sloths will likely never be seen awake during the day, and will spend the entire time asleep.
Being nocturnal is also a way for these animals to stay safe from predators that hunt when the sun is up. While some rainforest predators are active at night, the ones more likely to prey on sloths prefer to hunt during the day.
5. A sloth has a four-chambered stomach
Sloths mostly feed on leaves, which they can easily reach using a long and sticky tongue. Their claws are not great for grabbing and holding food, so they mostly use their tongues for this. They will also eat fruit and shoots.
Sloths have a four-chambered stomach, which keeps their digestion slow and limits how much they will eat at once. This also keeps their metabolism low, and contributes to why these animals move so slowly.
6. Sloths are very slow
Sloths are well-known for how slow they are, and are actually one of the slowest animals in the world. This slowness has actually helped these animals thrive in the rainforest.
They can stay completely still for a while and blend in with their surroundings, which camouflages them from predators.
This slowness comes from how slowly sloths digest their food, and how little energy they can produce at one time. Having a four-chambered stomach and a slow digestion system also limits how much these animals are able to eat at one time, and means they need to sleep longer than other animals.
7. Sloths are great swimmers
Even though sloths are not fast on land, they are pretty fast swimmers. They have evolved into good swimmers because of how often rainforests flood, which has allowed them to thrive in the wet environment. Sloths may even drop from tree branches into the water.
Despite being good at swimming, they really only do it every once in a while. Sloths tend to only swim if they have to. These animals can also spend time underwater, and are even able to hold their breath for up to 30 or 40 minutes.
8. They can camouflage
Like most rainforest animals, sloths have had to adapt the ability to camouflage in order to stay safe from predators. Their thick brown fur blends into the surrounding environment.
Their fur plus an ability to stay completely still makes it hard for potential predators to even see nearby sloths. Sometimes moss, fungi, and more will even grow on these creatures, making them blend in with their surroundings even more.
These types of plant life growing on sloths is possible due to how often their fur is wet, and how slowly they move.
9. Sloths can spin their heads 270 degrees
Another unique adaptation that sloths have developed is the ability to turn their heads 270 degrees, either left or right. This has led some people to even believe sloths can completely turn their heads around.
This helps them look out for predators, and has been able to keep sloths safe over the years. Three-toed sloths are the ones able to turn their heads 270 degrees, while the two-toed sloth can only perform a 90-degree head turn. Some sloth species are able to turn their heads 330 degrees.
Just like other rainforest animals, sloths have evolved with a unique set of adaptations to help them survive the unique and sometimes harsh habitat. Not only do these traits help them stay safe and avoid predators, but they also help them deal with the sometimes limited food source and flooded land.