What Is A Sloth Related To? Besides Me, That Is!

When looking at one’s own ancestry, it may be interesting (and surprising) to see where some of our relatives originally came from, what they did with their lives, etc. Like humans, animals have their own ancestors and their own evolutionary journeys that they have taken, too. In this article, I am going to discuss sloths specifically and answer the question, “What is a sloth related to?”.

As I discuss this topic further, I will write this article in the following way: first, I will talk a bit about a few groups of animals; then, I will discuss which animals sloths are most closely related to; and finally, I will present (and talk a little bit about) the closest relatives of sloths. At the end of it all, I hope that you will have enjoyed the read and learned something new. So, let’s begin, shall we…..


Xenarthra, Cingulata, Pilosa…..What Is This About?

Those are quite the words, aren’t they! Xenarthra. Cingulata. Pilosa. What do they mean and what do they have to do with sloths? Let me explain…..

Going back over 50 million years, there was a group of animals that were living in South America. These particular animals ended up being in a long period of isolation, during which time they developed and were given the name “Xenarthra”. According to Active Wild, “The name ‘Xenarthra’ means ‘strange joints’. It refers to the extra joints present in the lower spines of all xenarthrans.” All Xenarthrans have these strange joints (their backbones have extra joints) and have generally adapted to being “diggers”.

In the animal kingdom, Xenarthra is considered to be a superorder, which is defined by Vocabulary.com as “(biology) a taxonomic group ranking above an order and below a class or subclass.” Under the Xenarthra superorder, orders of Cingulata and Pilosa exist. Britannica states that “Order Cingulata consists primarily of armoured armadillo-like animals, and the name refers to the girdlelike shell of present-day armadillos”. Britannica also says, “Sloths and anteaters are the living members of the order Pilosa, whose name refers to the animals’ hairiness.” The order Pilosa is further divided into the suborders of Vermilingua and Folivora.


So, What Does All Of That Mean?

I don’t know about you, but that all sounds so confusing to me. So, I am going to try to simplify things a bit here. Here we go…..

Xenarthra is a group of animals. One of those groups is Cingulata, which consists of armadillos. Another group is Vermilingua, which consists of anteaters. Yet another group is Folivora, which consists of sloths. There are actually six species of sloths, which are classified as either two-toed or three-toed. More information about the different types of sloths can be found in my articles titled, “Different Types Of Sloths – How Many Are There?” and “2 Toed Sloth Vs 3 Toed Sloth – They Aren’t All The Same“.


Well, Which Animals Are Related To Sloths Then?

While two-toed and three-toed sloths share many similarities, they have undergone evolutionary journeys that may surprise some people – these journeys were done independently of each other. As a result, they are actually distant relatives. Based on the Xenarthra superorder, the closest relative to the sloth ends up being the anteater and the second closest relative is the armadillo.

While this family tree may seem surprising to some people (myself included), it seems to make sense when we look at the similarities between all of them, some of which include the following:

  • They are all mammals. To learn more about mammals, check out my article titled, “Are Sloths Mammals? Let’s Find Out…..“.
  • They all have long claws that are extremely useful for digging, climbing, and/or as a defense mechanism. For more information about the claws of sloths specifically, check out my article titled, “Why Do Sloths Have Long Claws? Let’s Examine The Reasons“.
  • They all have poor eyesight.
  • They all have similar formations with respect to their skulls.
  • They all have low metabolisms.
  • They are all good swimmers.
  • Way back when, they all came from South America.

Information about sloths can be found in various articles throughout this website, but I thought it might be interesting to share a bit of information about armadillos and anteaters in this article. So, I have done that next.



A little bit of information about armadillos:

  • There are 21 species of armadillos, classified under nine different groups. According to Treehugger, “The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is the only armadillo species that migrated to North America.”
  • Armadillos love their beauty sleep, as they will get up to 16 hours of it per day.
  • According to OneKind Planet, “Translated from Spanish to mean ‘little armoured one’, armadillos are the only living mammal with such a shell!”.



A little bit of information about anteaters:

  • Appropriately named, anteaters do indeed eat ants. And they eat a lot of them! They also enjoy feasting on termites, too. According to Wonderopolis, “An anteater’s tongue can flick up to 160 times per minute, helping to lap up as many as 35,000 ants and termites they swallow whole each day!”.
  • There are four species of anteaters: Giant Anteater, Silky Anteater, Northern Tamandua, and Southern Tamandua.
  • According to A-Z Animals, “Their legs, which look like panda faces, are part of the giant anteater’s protective coloring. Baby anteaters have similar coloring, which allows the baby to “vanish” while making its mother look bigger“.


That Is Quite The Family Tree!

Well, that brings us to the end of this article. In it, I attempted to answer the question, “What is a sloth related to?”. I arrived at the answer by talking a bit about a few groups of animals, by discussing which animals sloths are most closely related to, and presenting (and talking a little bit about) the closest relatives of sloths.

As interesting as our own family trees and ancestry can be, the history and ancestry of animals can be just as interesting, too (at least, that is how I feel). I hope that you found that to be the case with this article and that you enjoyed reading it (and maybe even learned a thing or two in the process).

If you would like to leave any comments or questions, please feel free to do so below. I enjoy reading what others have to say and I will always reply.

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  • To be very honest, I only know what is a sloth only when I watched the movie, Zootopoia. It is so funny with all that slow movement and how we would use it to describe us when we are doing things slowly. This article has been really educational for me as I learn about the ancestry of the sloth and its relationship with other groups. Very interesting!

    • Michael Christmann says:

      Ah, yes.  I have been called a sloth more than once in my life!

      I’m glad that you enjoyed my article and that you learned something from it.  Thank you for leaving your comments.

  • David Young says:

    Note: this comment should be for the article,Do Sloths Die When They Poop?  What?!?!“.  

    Wow, I never thought I would ever take the time to read about any animal pooping, let alone a sloth. Who would have thought it was so risky taking a dump. I must admit I had never given an ounce of thought to this subject matter but having read the article it proved to be informative in a quirky amusing kind of way. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the author but that’s how it struck me.

    • Michael Christmann says:

      I’m glad you found my article informative.  And yes, the intent was indeed to present the information in a quirky amusing way.  I’m glad you understood my sense of humour lol.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article and to leave your comments.

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