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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Meet The Slowest Mammal In The World

The tropical forests of Central and South America are the home of Sloths, which are renowned for being the slowest mammals in the world. In fact, they are so incredibly inactive that algae actually develops on their fur. The plants give the fur a greenish color that serves as a useful camouflage for the sloths (it helps them blend in with the green leaves of their rain forest home).

There are two main species of sloths, they are known as the two-toed sloths (genus Choleopus) and three-toed sloths (genus Bradypus). These sloths are identified by the number of long, claws that they have on their front feet. Two-toed sloths are somewhat larger and tend to spend more time hanging upside-down than the three-toed sloths, who will often sit upright on a tree branch. The facial coloring of the three-toed sloth makes them look like they're always smiling. Three-toed sloths also have an advantage that not many other mammals have; they possess extra neck vertebrae that allow them to turn their heads almost all the way around!
Sloths spend most of their life hanging from trees, and are generally nocturnal animals. Their strong grip comes from their long claws which are used as hooks. These drowsy tree-dwellers sleep a lot – about 15 to 20 hours every day! And even when they are wide awake, they barely move at all. The two-toed sloths are generally silent. They eat primarily leaves, but also shoots, and fruits from the trees and get most of the water they need from juicy plants. Their bodily functions are so slow that they come down to the ground to relieve themselves only once a week. Once on land, they slowly move about by digging their front claws into the dirt and dragging their bellies across the ground. If caught, these animals have no chance to escape predators, such as big cats, and must try to defend themselves by biting fiercely, hissing, slashing with their claws, and shrieking. This might sound strange, but apparently sloths are surprisingly good swimmers. They sometimes fall directly from rain forest trees into rivers and stroke efficiently with their long arms.

The three-toed sloths are known to emit a long, high-pitched scream that echoes through the forests as "ahh-eee". Because of this cry, these sloths are even nicknamed "ai" (pronounced "eye") in Latin America. Two-toed sloths do well in captivity, on the other hand, three-toed sloths don't.

Source: National Geographic

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