(WHTM) — October 20th is the day to contemplate the sloths, those charming creatures who remind us that the fast lane is not always the best way to travel.
AIUNAU, a non-profit organization program in Columbia dedicated to protecting wildlife, started working with sloths in 1996 and created International Sloth Day in 2011. Its website describes its mission: ”We rehabilitate wild animals that are the victims of illegal traffic, mistreated and/or injured. Our final goal is reintroduction of the rehabilitated animals to their natural habitat.”
Sloths live in Central and South America. There are six species of sloth divided into two groups: two-toed and three-toed.
Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth
Hoffman’s two-toed sloth
Pygmy three-toed sloth
There’s something about sloths that just tickles our imaginations and charms our socks off — with a big boost from mass media.
Sid the Sloth in “Ice Age” and Belt the Sloth in “The Croods” made both movies huge successes, and the scene in “Zootopia” of a Department of Motor Vehicles run by sloths is a masterpiece of excruciatingly…funny….slowwwww……mmmmotion…….humor. One week in the Comic strip “Zits,” Jeremy, the sometimes sluggish lead character, ends up taking care of a sloth. He dresses it in his clothes, and nobody notices the difference.
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Most sloth humor is based on the contrast between our frenetic high-speed lives and sloth “laziness”. The truth is, sloths are not lazy. They lead very busy lives, they just live them at their own speed in a way adapted to their habitats. Their “slowness” helps them survive.
Everything about sloths revolves around their slow metabolism. They mostly eat leaves, which are not very nutritious. Sloths have a multi-chambered stomach filled with bacteria that can break down plant cellulose, but they need time to work. As a result, it can take a sloth up to a month to digest a meal, but it’s digested thoroughly.
Sloths travel slowly, rarely moving more than a few dozen yards a day. They also save energy by hanging around…literally.
When sloths travel, they usually dangle upside-down from branches, holding on by their hooked claws. Because they don’t have to support their own weight, they can get by with much less muscle mass than most mammals — about 25-30% of their body weight vs. 40-45%. Less muscle, less metabolic load.
They only climb down to the forest floor to search for a mate, find new territory, or, about once a week, to defecate. These trips to the ground are the most dangerous times for them because they really have no way to defend themselves from predators.
Even up in the forest canopy, sloths don’t have many ways to fend off attacks. Once again, their low metabolism comes to the rescue. Moving slowly makes them less noticeable to jaguars, harpy eagles, and other predators. During the rainy season, greenish algae grow in their hair, which makes them even harder to spot. Put these together, and you have pretty effective camouflage.
Sloths have survived with their take-it-slow approach for millions of years. On International Sloth Day, perhaps we should consider the lessons the sloths have to offer the always-in-a-rush human race. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu may have summarized these lessons, and he did it in a single sentence:
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”