Millions of years ago, when the isthmus of Panama was formed, it connected South and North America together. This lead to animal migrations and a fantastic mix of species that adapted to new environments and fought for survival in the new food chain: the giant ground sloth, which could grow up to 6 meters and weigh 3 tons faced deadly saber tooth tigers.Only a few of these original mammals can still be observed today: the sloth, anteater and armadillo are the only survivors of the Palaeocene (60 million years ago).
Easily hunted because of their very slow speeds, sloth populations have decreased drastically. From the 60 existent species, nowadays only two small and well camouflaged sorts remain: the two-toed and the three-toed sloth.
Funny sloth facts:
- Sloths move as little as possible, sometimes staying in the same tree for 24 hours.
- They breathe only between 6 and 8 times per minute.
- Their favourite position is hanging upside down on a tree branch.
- Only once a week, they go down to the ground to dig a hole with their short tail to do their business.
- They sleep up to 18 hours a day to save some energy.
- Sloths try to catch the first sun rays at dawn to warm up but they must hide from eagles who are their main predators.
- Their digestion system is so slow that digesting their food, mainly composed of leafs, can take a month.
- Sloths give birth while hanging in the tree. The mother grabs the baby’s head as soon as it pops out and drags the newborn onto her belly.
We have observed some sloths in Reserva Biologica la Tirimbina, Costa Rica, on Bastimentos island, Panama and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama. Keeping your eyes open while hiking in any cloud forest in the south of Central America and on certain locations in South America, might provide you with a glimpse of this ancient creature.