Why Do Sloths Have Long Claws? Let’s Examine The Reasons

Sloths are known by many people for many things, some of which include slowness of movement, their cuteness, and their long claws. I could go on and on for quite some time about their cuteness, but in this particular article, I am going to go into more detail regarding their claws as I attempt to answer the question, “Why do sloths have long claws?”.

I will do so by discussing and describing sloth claws in some detail, I will explain what their claws are used for, I will discuss how evolution and adaptation has resulted in the way sloths’ claws currently are, and I will compare sloth claws to the claws of some other animals.


The Details Of The Claws

Sloths have claws that are long, curved, sharp, and strong. As far as how long these claws are, according to Live Science, sloths have claws that have a length of “…3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters)…”.

When looking at the claws of sloths, all things are not necessarily as they may appear. According to The Sloth Conservation Foundation, “While sloth claws look like overgrown nails, they are actually formed by elongated and curved distal phalange bones protruding from their limbs.”

Things can happen and as strong as these claws are, they are not indestructible. According to The Sloth Conservation Foundation, “If they get broken or damaged, sloths can actually regrow the claws thanks to their low metabolic rate (in a similar way to when reptiles regrow their limbs). However, the claws will rarely regain their original shape, often growing back deformed.”


These Claws Were Definitely Not Made For Walking!

With these long, curved, sharp, and strong claws, sloths are nicely equipped for life high in the trees (they spend the majority of their time way up in the trees, living in the rainforests of Central and South America). In addition to having these cool claws, sloths also have long limbs. When you combine these claws with these limbs, sloths are provided with an ability to hold securely onto tree branches. In fact, they spend most of their lives hanging upside-down. Sloths are held so securely in place by these claws that they have been known to stay attached to the branch even after they have passed away.

In addition to using claws for life high in the trees, sloths will also use them to defend themselves. When you are the slowest-moving mammal (and one of the slowest-moving animals) on the entire planet, your options to protect yourself are limited and they will use those claws if they are attacked or feel threatened. For additional information about this, check out my article titled, “Are Sloths Dangerous? Is This Even Possible?

As wonderful as these claws are to sloths while in their homes in the trees, those same claws make walking on land extremely challenging for them. While so many animals are able to walk on land, sloths are not one of those animals. So, they use their claws in an attempt to move themselves along the ground. While on the ground, sloths move even slower than they do in the trees (which is very, very, very, slowly!).


How Did These Claws Get To Be The Way They Are Today?

Through evolution and adaptation, sloths have the claws that they now do. Over a 35 to 40 million year period, sloths have evolved and adapted and one of those adaptations is the usefulness of those claws. Additionally, throughout this period of time, claws have provided sloths with incredible functionality. For more information about this, check out my articles titled, “Evolution Of Sloths – A Bit Of History” and “Sloth Adaptations – Such Amazing Animals!“.


The Claws Of Others

Now that the claws of sloths have been discussed, how about doing a comparison of those claws to the claws of some other animals? That is what this section is going to be about and I will go about it by discussing the animals with the longest claws (from the perspective of actual claw length, as well as the perspective of claw length in proportion to the body length of the animal).

First, the animal with the longest claws (of actual length) was a dinosaur that lived approximately 70 million years ago (Therizinosaurus). This animal roamed around with claws that, according to My Animals, “…could reach up to three feet long.” That is over 90 centimeters long!

When looking at claw length in proportion to the body length of the animal, three animals seem to stand out – the Giant Armadillo, the badger, and the harpy eagle. Zoollery provides the following information related to these three animals:

  • The Giant Armadillo – “Their claws are about 22% of their body length, which is probably the longest claw to body ratio of any animal.”
  • The badger – “Their claws represent 15% of their total body length.”
  • The harpy eagle – “Their claws represent about 7% of their total body length.”

Let’s compare these percentages to sloths. Earlier in this article, it was revealed that sloths can have claws up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) long. In an article titled, “How Big Are Sloths? Here Is Some Info For You“, I provided information showing that sloths range in length from about 42 to 86 centimeters. Depending upon the numbers used, this would put the sloth’s claw length in proportion to its body length anywhere from 11.5% to 24%.


Claws – The Finale

In this article, I presented some information in an attempt to answer the question, “Why do sloths have long claws?” To get there, I discussed and described sloth claws in some detail, I explained what their claws are used for, I discussed how evolution and adaptation has resulted in the way sloths’ claws currently are, and I compared sloth claws to the claws of some other animals.

At the end of it all, I hope that I provided some useful and interesting information for you, and that you learned something new today. If you would like to leave any comments or questions, please do so below and I will be sure to reply.

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  • Interesting information on sloth claws that they have the ability to regrow back. Also how tightly they can hold onto the trees using the claws, that they can stay intact after they have passed away!
    Claws are the amazing and highly useful asset that nature has granted the sloths.
    Sloths are one of the nature’s true wonders for sure.

    • I’m glad that you found some interesting information in this article.

      I agree with you that sloths are wonders of the animal kingdom (and wonderful, too).

      Thank you for taking the time to leave your comments.

  • Thank you for this interesting article. When thinking of sloths claws, I have always compared them to those of a giant armadillo. And I see I’m not alone in this because you have also done it along with the badger, and the harpy eagle. But one thing that really surprised me is that sloths use these claws to defend themselves. I’ll go over and check this post you linked in this post about sloths being dangerous.

    • Michael Christmann says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on this article.  I’m glad that you learned a little something from reading it.

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