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7 Surprising Sloth Facts

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Sloths—the adorable and lethargic animals living in treetops—depend on the health and survival of Central and South American tropical forests. They spend much of their lives in the canopy, snoozing and remaining hidden from predators.

The animals live solitary lives and travel from tree to tree using canopy vines. Located in places such as Brazil and Panama, the six species of this fascinating and wonderful animal need healthy forests to survive.

But tropical forests are some of the most vulnerable to deforestation. Loss of trees means animals are forced to live on smaller areas of land that can’t support healthy populations. WWF works with communities, governments, companies and other partners in forest management to protect forests and the animals that rely on them.

Take a look at some common questions about sloths whose habitat WWF helps protect:

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1. Why are sloths slow?
Sloths have an extremely low metabolic rate, which means they move at a languid, sluggish pace through the trees. On average, sloths travel 41 yards per day—less than half the length of a football field!

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2. How do sloths raise their young?
Female sloths give birth to one baby a year after a gestation period of six months. The baby sticks with the mother for about six months, grasping its mom’s belly as she moves through the trees. This is an important bonding period that helps the offspring learn and develop. When the sloth leaves its mom after about six months, it adopts part of its mother’s range, continuing to communicate with the parent through calls.

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3. How often do sloths sleep?
Sloths snooze for about 15 hours per day. That leaves only nine hours to lumber through the trees. They maintain a low body temperature of about 30-34 degrees Celsius (86-93 degrees Fahrenheit) and move in and out of shade to regulate their body temperature.

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4. What do sloths eat?
Sloths munch on leaves, twigs and buds. Because the animals don’t have incisors, they trim down leaves by smacking their firm lips together. A low metabolic rate means sloths can survive on relatively little food; it takes days for them to process what other animals can digest in a matter of hours.

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5. Do sloths know how to swim?
Surprisingly, sloths are strong swimmers. They will sometimes drop down from their treetop perches into water and use their extended arms to propel through the water.

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6. Do sloths ever leave the trees?
Sloths spend a majority of their time up in the canopy, coming down only one time per week to relieve themselves. The trees provide a natural protection from predators such as jaguars and eagles; it’s safer for sloths to remain motionless and camouflaged off the ground. They will, however, venture down on rare occasions to find more food or a mate.

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7. What threats do sloths face?
Though not all sloths are endangered, some of the six species are threatened by habitat loss. Deforestation in the tropical forests of South and Central America jeopardize the trees sloths rely on for food and shelter. The Amazon, the planet’s largest rain forest, lost at least 17 percent of its forest cover in the last half century due to human activity. Around the world, we are losing forests at a rate equivalent to 48 football fields per minute.