How Slow Are Sloths? Let’s Take A Look At This…..Slowly!

Sloths are known by many people for many things, including their cuteness, how adorable and lovable they are, and how wonderful they are. They are also known by many people for their slowness, which they most definitely are! But just how slow are sloths? That is what this article is going to address and discuss.

I will do so by discussing why sloths move so slowly, how slowly they actually do move, and compare their speeds to the speeds of some other animals. At the end of it all, I hope to have educated and entertained you. So, let’s begin…..


Why Do Sloths Move So Slowly?

First and foremost, sloths do not move slowly because they are lazy. This seems to be a common misconception that many people have regarding sloths, but it simply is not true.

Sloths move slowly for a number of reasons, some of which include the following:

  • Low caloric intake and slow metabolism.
    • Sloths eat mostly leaves, they consume very few calories, and they have correspondingly slow metabolisms. There is no way that this combination of factors can provide much energy or nutrients for them, so they move slowly to save some of that energy for them.
  • Habitat.
    • Living in the rainforests of Central and South America provides sloths with a climate that is hot and humid. As such, they don’t need to use up a bunch of energy to keep warm because they are already warm.
  • Evolution.
    • Evolving from giant ground sloths to tree-dwellers that eat mostly leaves has caused sloths to move slowly.
  • Survival.
    • Sloths have poor eyesight and by travelling slowly, they remain safer. They also have predators that hunt prey visually and by moving slowly, sloths have less chance of being noticed by those predators.

For more information about why sloths move slowly, check out my article titled, “Why Do Sloths Move Slowly? It’s About Survival“.


How Slowly Do Sloths Actually Move?

According to ScienceDaily, “The number of recognized mammal species has increased over time from 4,631 species in 1993 to 5,416 in 2005, and now to 6,495 species” (the date of this particular ScienceDaily article was February 6, 2018). Of this entire list of nearly 6,500 mammals, sloths are the slowest of them all. In addition, sloths are also one of the slowest-moving animals on the entire planet (with over five million different species of animals, this is quite the accomplishment…..sort of).

To learn a little bit more about mammals (as well as about sloths as mammals), check out my article titled, “Are Sloths Mammals? Let’s Find Out…..“.

Now, For Some Numbers

So, we know that sloths are slooooooowwwwwww. But just how slow are we talking here? Consider these bits of information:

  • Sloths have various critters living on them, including algae. You must be slow if you have a habitat of other creatures living on you!
  • According to World Animal Protection, “…sloths generally travel no more than 125 feet (38 meters) in a single day, and on the rare occasion that they find themselves at ground level, they crawl only 1 foot (30 cm) per minute.”
  • According to Science Kids, “Sloths can move along the ground at just 2 m (6.5 ft) per minute! In the trees they are slightly quicker at 3 m (10 ft) per minute”.

Even though the speed numbers that are provided by various sources of information are not entirely consistent, they do all come to the same conclusion – sloths move very, very, very slowly! As a general guideline, they move at less than 0.2 kilometers per hour while in the trees and at just over 0.1 kilometers per hour while on the ground.


Time To Do Some Comparisons

For comparison purposes, let’s now take a look at how the speed of sloths compares to the speed of some other animals. First, I’ll make comparisons to some slow animals, followed by comparisons to some fast animals. In the slow animals category, I will compare the sloth to the giant tortoise, the gila monster, and the seahorse. For fast animals, I will compare the sloth to the peregrine falcon, the cheetah, and the pronghorn.

One of the very few animals that is slower than the sloth is the giant tortoise. This particular animal crawls along at 0.06 kilometers per hour. A lizard known as the gila monster runs at a speed of approximately 1.6 kilometers per hour. The seahorse (they don’t get any slower than this animal in the fish kingdom) reaches a maximum speed of around eight kilometers per hour.

Now, onto some fast animals. First, there is the peregrine falcon at over 380 kilometers per hour! Let’s not forget about the cheetah, coming in at 120+ kilometers per hour. Not far behind is the pronghorn at over 88 kilometers per hour.

To continue with these comparisons, I have calculated how long it would take each of these animals to travel a distance of one kilometer. I realize that the top speeds of each of these animals can only be maintained for a certain period of time, but I thought it would be interesting to do these calculations, anyways. So, here are the numbers that I came up with for how long it would take each animal to travel one kilometer:

  • The peregrine falcon could do it in about 10 seconds.
  • It would take the cheetah about 30 seconds.
  • The pronghorn could arrive in under a minute.
  • The seahorse would swim for approximately eight minutes to get there.
  • The gila monster would run for almost 40 minutes to make it there.
  • In the trees, the sloth could get there in about five hours. If on the ground, it would take the sloth about 10 hours.
  • The giant tortoise would be the last of these particular animals to make it to the one kilometer mark, and it would take almost 17 hours for it to get there!

For a little more info about these slow and fast animals (and a couple of others), check out my article titled, “Slow Animals List – Try To Stay Awake Watching These Animals Move!“.


The Oh-So-Slow Sloth

In this article, I discussed why sloths move so slowly, how slowly they actually do move, and compared their speeds to the speeds of some other animals. The goal of this article was to answer the question, “How slow are sloths?” and I hope that I was able to provide the answer in an interesting and informative way.

Thank you for taking a look at this article. If you have any questions or comments that you’d like to make, please feel free to do so below.

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  • As long as the sloths don’t stop, they will get there. They are slow, but not the slowest!

    I love reading the comparison of from very fast to the very slow animal. It definitely makes you wonder how really slow the sloths really are when you actually see them in real life.

    It would be really interesting to watch them climb up the trees. You can really visualise and would probably find them soothing and relaxing at first and then would probably get bored as we are used to such a fast world!

    Thank you for sharing another factual article about sloths with us all.

    • Yes, the sloths will get there…..eventually! And they will beat the giant tortoise there, too. 🙂

      I think it is interesting to watch all animals (including sloths) and I can definitely see the same visualisation that you do.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave your comments today.

  • I have been coming by your articles quite often today. Once again, great job trying to provide as much information as possible and making us know more about Sloths. Well on the subject of How Slow Sloths are, Quick question tho! You said Sloths move slow to save energy! Are you insinuating they could move faster if they wanted? I’m quite dazed.

    • Michael Christmann says:

      Thank you for stopping by today – you are always welcome there. 🙂

      To answer your question – sloths can move faster if there is a predator attacking them.  However, because of their adaptations, that faster speed that they are able to achieve is very, very minimal.  As a bit of additional information, sloths know how to swim quite well and they are able to move up to three times faster in the water than they can move themselves on land.  Plus, they are able to hold their breath for 40 minutes.

      Thanks again for visiting my site and for leaving your comments.

  • Very interesting read about sloths and yes, I did not know that they are so slow for a reason or reasons. After reading it actually makes sense. By the way, I think that the peregrine falcon’s top speeds of over 380 km per hour is when they are diving. Nonetheless, very fast. It is also funny to see that a sloth is faster in the trees than on the ground. I guess they will spend most of their time in the trees, as on the ground it will be much more vulnerable to attacks.

    • Michael Christmann says:

      I’m glad that you found this article interesting.

      You are indeed correct in that the peregrine falcon’s top speed is when they are diving.  When they are flying, they are not nearly as fast as when they are diving, but they can still fly at speeds over 50 km per hour (and speeds over 100 km per hour when they are going after their prey).

      Sloths are faster in the trees for a number of reasons, one of which is their claws.  While on land, their claws prove to be a hindrance to them.

      You are correct again in that sloths spend most of their time in the trees and are much more vulnerable to attacks while they are on the ground. 

      Thank you very much for your insights and for your comments.

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