Two-Toed Sloths primarily eat leaves, but also shoots, fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, bark, and occasionally small rodents. They have large stomachs, with multiple chambers, which help to ferment the large amount of plant matter that they eat. Food can take up to a month to digest due to their slow metabolism. Depending on when in the excretion cycle a sloth is weighed, urine and feces may account for up to 30 percent of the animal’s body weight, which averages about 13 pounds (6 kilograms). Although they have a much more diverse diet in the wild than in captivity they can survive well in captivity on a diet of fruits and vegetables. The Three-Toed sloth is much more difficult to maintain in captivity because it needs a constant supply of leaves from various trees such as the Guarumo Cecropia and up to 96 other lesser known species. The Three-Toed Sloth will not normally consume vegetables and fruits. The leaves to feed them in captivity must be harvested from the forest daily and hand fed to them.
Sloths live approximately 12 years.
Two-Toed Sloths are not closely related genetically to the Three-Toed Sloth and are thought to have evolved independently to occupy a similar ecological niche. The Two-Toed Sloth is larger than the Three-Toed and can weigh from 8-19 lbs. (4- 8.5 kg). The Two-Toed Sloths are actually more related genetically to the extinct Giant Sloth than they are to the Three-Toed Sloth.
A sloth’s musculature, stomach, and metabolism are intensely coordinated to operate using a minimum of expended energy and to yield the most energy from their low-calorie food supply (leaves). They have very low muscle mass relative to the size of their stomach and intestines compared to other mammals. Their stomach and intestines comprise an enormous 30% of their entire weight. The digestion of the leaves they eat can take up to one month. This system, like a cow’s stomach, is slow but very efficient in deriving as much energy as possible from the relatively indigestible leaves they consume. Their low body temperature of approximately 86°F (30°C) and their lethargic behaviors are other body functions that save energy.
A male sloth reaches sexual maturity in 4-5 years and females in around 3 years. Male sloths attract female sloths by marking their territory with a powerfully scented secretion from a rear gland in their buttocks. They normally copulate in the branches of a tree.
The gestation period is from 5-7 months and only one offspring is born weighing about 9 ounces (250g). It clings to its mother’s abdomen with its claws and suckles for up to 4 weeks before beginning to feed on leaves chewed up by the mother for another month. It then feeds alongside the mother for up to 6 more months. This time period spent with the mother after weaning gives the young sloth the opportunity to learn individual food trees. The mother then moves on to a new feeding range and leaves her offspring her previous home range to live and feed. This gift of territory helps to insure the survival of her young. However, the mortality rate of sloths is so high that rarely will two successive generations survive.
Unlike many other mammals of their type Sloths have color vision. They also have an excellent sense of smell which aids in finding food sources and mates, but they have extremely poor hearing.
Sloths are most closely related to anteaters and armadillos than any other mammals and are grouped in the same order with them. They are also thought to be related to the Koala Bear in Australia but from way back in the evolutionary calendar.
These animals lead a solitary life and only come together to mate.