Sloth truly deserves its name, biologists say

Jan 22, 2014
A sloth is being weighed during the annual inventory of the zoo in Dresden, eastern Germany, on January 16, 2014

Imagine a creature so slothful that it snacks off its own fur and budges only once a week for a bowel movement.

Well, there is one, say scientists, and it is a type of sloth.

Having carefully studied the full extent of the animal's idleness, a team of biologists revealed Wednesday that the sloth truly deserves its adjectival name.

The three-toed variety in particular has perfected the art of inertia through a carefully choreographed slowdance with a particular species of moth.

The dwell in the , where they live mainly on .

Once a week, however, the animal will descend from its tree to defecate on the ground—a risky endeavour that makes it vulnerable to predators, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Why does it bother?

When the sloth descends, the scientists found, the moths that live in its fur lay their eggs in its dung, where the larvae develop before emerging as adults and flying up into the tree to join the rest of the colony in the languid animal's coat.

A cameraman films a sloth at the zoo in Dresden, eastern Germany, on January 16, 2014

The moths act as a type of fertiliser and boost nitrogen levels in sloth fur, which in turn boosts . The source could be tiny amounts of dung that are brought up from by the ground by the insects.

The sloth's individual hairs have cracks that fill with rainwater in which algae grow hydroponically.

This creates algae-gardens that sloths consume to augment their limited, leaf-based diet, said the researchers.

"This complex (symbiosis)... reinforces fundamental aspects of the sloth's behaviour and life history, and may reinforce the slothfulness of sloths," said a study summary.

Explore further: Bad reputation of crows demystified

More information: A syndrome of mutualism reinforces the lifestyle of a sloth, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rspb.2013.3006

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researcher IDs Ice Age sloth bone in Colorado

Nov 07, 2010

(AP) -- Scientists excavating an Ice Age ecosystem in the resort town of Snowmass Village say they have found the first Jefferson's ground sloth ever discovered in Colorado.

Identifying sloth species at a genetic level

Jan 03, 2012

Identifying species, separating out closely related species and managing each type on its own, is an important part of any animal management system. Some species, like the two types of two-toed sloth, are so close in appearance ...

Sloth bear cub debuts at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

Jun 24, 2013

The daring and adventurous sloth bear cub, Hank, made his public debut at the Smithsonian's National Zoo today. He is the first sloth bear born at the Zoo in seven years. Born Dec. 19, 2012, Hank and his ...

Recommended for you

Bad reputation of crows demystified

Jan 23, 2015

In literature, crows and ravens arebad omens and are associated with witches. Most people believe they steal, eat other birds' eggs and reduce the populations of other birds. But a new study, which has brought ...

How gerbils orient in the light of the setting sun

Jan 23, 2015

A light brown remains light brown: For gerbils, the fur color of their conspecifics appears identical under different lighting conditions. The ability of color constancy in rodents has been demonstrated for ...

Snack attack: Bears munch on ants and help plants grow

Jan 22, 2015

Tiny ants may seem like an odd food source for black bears, but the protein-packed bugs are a major part of some bears' diets and a crucial part of the food web that not only affects other bugs, but plants too.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.