Throughout history, animals and humans have adapted in so many ways to so many situations. Sloths are no exception as these gentle, adorable and lovable creatures have had their own unique history of adapting. In this article, I will go into more detail about sloth adaptations as I discuss what sloths were like millions of years ago, how they have adapted over the years, and what they are like today. Let the adaptation journey begin!
What Exactly Does Adaptation Mean?
According to National Geographic, “Evolutionary adaptation, or simply adaptation, is the adjustment of organisms to their environment in order to improve their chances at survival in that environment.” So, it is all about survival…..about changing…..about evolving…..about adapting to environments. Those that are able to do so successfully are able to survive. And survive is something that sloths have been able to do for at least 35 million years.
What Were Sloths Like Way Back When?
In another article, “Evolution Of Sloths – A Bit Of History“, I discussed how sloths have evolved to be the slow-moving creatures that they are today. 35 to 40 million years ago, there was only one sloth species (today, there are six). Between then and now, there are sloths that have been huge; sloths that have been hole-diggers; sloths that have lived in the water, as well as on land; sloths that were cave-dwellers; and even a sloth species that was named after a U.S. President.
Today, sloths spend most of their time high in the trees in the rainforests of Central and South America. They are the slowest-moving mammal (and one of the slowest-moving animals) on the planet. So, how did this happen? How did sloths end up being the way they are today? It is because they adapted to their environment. And because they adapted, they survived.
How Have Sloths Adapted?
There are many ways in which sloths have adapted, and I will go into more detail about some of those ways. These are the specific sloth adaptations that I will discuss:
- Usefulness of claws.
- Slow metabolism.
- Slowness of movement.
- Presence of algae.
- Extra neck vertebrae.
Usefulness Of Claws
Sloths have claws that are long and curved, as well as sharp and strong. They also have long limbs which, when combined with the features of their claws, provide them with an ability to hold securely onto tree branches. These adaptations enable sloths to be nicely equipped for life in their natural habitat of trees and branches.
While their claws may not be an ideal defence mechanism, sloths will use them to defend and protect themselves if they are attacked or feel threatened. Running away is definitely not an option for sloths, so their claws do afford them some sort of opportunity to defend and protect themselves.
Sloths consume very few calories (they eat mostly leaves). They also have a four-part stomach that takes a long time to digest what they eat (it can take one leaf up to 30 days to be digested by a sloth’s stomach). They tend to stay close to home and will travel very limited distances (only about 120 feet per day in the trees). So, slow metabolism is another sloth adaptation that has occurred.
Slowness Of Movement
Sloths have adapted to be slow-moving creatures, but this certainly does not mean that they are lazy. Rather, it is about survival and adaptation for them. Their slow movement is done with purpose, with thought, is strategic, and is done intentionally. Consider these points:
- Low caloric intake and slow metabolism make saving energy important. Sloths save energy by moving slowly.
- As a result of evolving from ground dwellers to tree-dwellers, the sloth has slowed down over the years.
- Moving slowly is a way for sloths to stay safe while travelling (especially with their terrible eyesight), as well as to stay safe from predators. Jaguars, ocelots, and harpy eagles (the three main predators of sloths) hunt prey visually and sloths probably move so slowly that they don’t get noticed.
Slowness of movement is quite the sloth adaptation. It is not about laziness for them, it is about survival. For more information about why sloths move slowly, check out my article titled, “Why Do Sloths Move Slowly? It’s About Survival“.
Presence Of Algae
Slowness of movement, in addition to a uniqueness that sloths have regarding their fur, results in the existence of a great habitat on them for other creatures. Various critters (including algae) can be found living on sloths. With this arrangement, a mutually beneficial situation exists: the algae gets water and shelter, while the sloth receives camouflage. How’s that for an interesting adaptation?
Extra Neck Vertebrae
Some sloths have extra neck vertebrae that not many other mammals have. With this extra vertebrae, these particular sloths are able to turn their heads 270 degrees, which can be extremely helpful in spotting predators and staying safe. Extra neck vertebrae – yet another sloth adaptation.
The 35 Million Year (Or Longer) Journey
Sloths have been on this planet, in one form of species or another, for at least 35 million years. During this time, they have adapted to their environments, and they have survived. Sloths have been huge; sloths have been hole-diggers; sloths have lived in the water, as well as on land; sloths have been cave-dwellers; and a sloth species was named after a U.S. President.
Today, as result of sloth adaptations, these wonderful creatures can be found in the rainforests of Central and South America, spending most of their lives hanging upside-down. They are the slowest-moving mammal (and one of the slowest-moving animals) on the planet, and they are survivors. I wonder what sloth adaptations will occur in the future.
Thank you for reading this article. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to provide them below. I look forward to your thoughts, comments, questions, and opinions and will be sure to reply.
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