Behavior

Feeding, mating and birth all occur in trees. Defecation and urination, however, occurs on the ground and sloths make their way to the ground once or twice a week to eliminate in a hole that is dug by the tail while the sloth clings with its forelegs to the tree trunk or vine above. It is during this process that females of the various moths, beetles and mites that live on the sloth fur will temporarily leave their shaggy host to deposit eggs on its dung. Sloth dung consists of hard rounded pellets about 0.3 in (8 mm) in diameter. About a cup-full are deposited on each occasion. Stereotyped movements of the tail and/or hindlimbs ensure that the hole is covered with leaf litter on completion. The entire process usually takes less than 30 minutes, but many jaguar kills of sloths are reported to occur during this period. Locomotion in trees generally proceeds with the claws used as hooks both in vertical and horizontal progression. Terrestrial movement is a slow flailing crawl with the animal preferring to hook objects with its claws and pull itself forwards. Progress under such conditions has been clocked at 0.25 mph (0.4 km/h). Swimming appears to be much easier, and sloths are frequently encountered crossing rivers. Though movement is generally slow, sloths can move quite quickly if threatened. Despite their general immobility, they are preyed on by large eagles (especially the harpy eagle, Harpia harpyja) and by jaguars. Males advertise presence by wiping pungent smelling secretions from anal glands onto branches. Dung middens also smell strongly and may serve as trysting locations.

A brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus), less than 1 ft (30 cm) long, found abandoned by a remote trail in lowland tropical rainforest of La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica. (Photo by Gregory G. Dimijian/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
A male pale-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) eats a cer-cropia leaf. (Photo by Dan Guravich/Photo Reseachers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
A brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) hangs by two limbs off of a tree on Bocas del Island, Panama. (Photo by Art Wolfe/ Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

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