Bradypodidae: Three-toed Sloth Family

These highly adapted mammals are specialized for life in the trees. Most of their life is spent among the branches, where they hang upside-down by means of their curved, hooklike claws. They feed on leaves and other plant material.


Maned Three-toed Sloth

Like species from this mixed habitat of deciduous and evergreen trees, it is being endangered by deforestation. Although renowned for being slow moving, these sloths occupy a surprisingly large territory, moving through the rainforest along lianas that grow between the crowns of the trees.

The long, grey mane of fur on the neck often has traces of green in it. This colour is produced by blue-green algae, a plant-like form of bacteria. This sloth has three claws on each foot.

The long, thick fur makes it hard for these sloths to regulate their temperature internally. When they are cold, the animals climb up to the highest branches to sunbathe. To cool off, they move down inside the crown of the tree to find a shady spot.

The maned sloth is a leaf eater. Leaves are not very nutritious, so sloths must spend long periods eating and digesting their food.

Distribution: Eastern coast of Brazil, South America.

Habitat: Coastal forest. Food: Leaves, twigs and buds.

Size: 55 - 60 cm (21.5 - 24 in); 3.5 - 4.5 kg (7.5 - 10 lb).

Maturity: 3 years.

Breeding: Single young born once a year.

Life span: 12 years.

Status: Endangered.


Megalonychidae: Two-toed Sloth Family

The two species of sloth in this family have two clawed digits on their front feet.


Southern Two-toed Sloth

These animals live in the rainforests of northern S. America as far south as Peru and Amazonian Brazil. They occasionally climb down to the ground, either to empty their bowels or to move to a tree that contains more food.

On the ground they are very awkward. Everything takes place upside down, including feeding, mating and giving birth.

All the toes have long claws, which the animal hooks over branches. The sloths move with a hand-over-hand action.

When resting, the sloths hang in a ball that looks like a wasp nest, termite nest or branch stump. Southern two-toed sloths live alone, only ever interacting during mating or with young. However, several two-toed sloths may feed in a large tree. Because they lack sharp biting teeth, the sloths have hard lips that cut through leaves and twigs. The back teeth grind the hard food. These teeth are continually worn down and grow throughout the animal's life.

Distribution: S. America, from eastern Venezuela and the Guianas south into northern Brazil and the upper Amazon Basin of Ecuador and Peru.

Habitat: Rainforests.

Food: Leaves, berries, twigs and fruits.

Size: 54 - 74 cm (21.5 - 29 in); 4 - 8.5 kg (8.75 - 18.75 lb).

Maturity: 4 - 5 years.

Breeding: Single offspring born every year.

Life span: 12 years.

Status: Vulnerable.


Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth

These animals are slow-moving and nocturnal by nature. Their young are born with claws to serve this purpose.

There are two different species of two-toed sloth. Although they are similar, they rarely overlap in areas of forest, and tend to occur separately, like their three-toed relatives. An easy way to tell these two groups apart is that two-toed sloths climb down trees head-first, rather than backwards. They eat large quantities of vegetation, which can take up to a month to pass through their digestive systems. They do not have the ability to shiver.

Distribution: Occurs in the rainforest canopy, extending from Nicaragua in Central America down to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil in South America. Probably most common in Panama.

Weight: 4 - 8 kg (8.8 - 17.6 lb).

Length: 58 - 70 cm (23 - 28 in).

Maturity: Females 3 years; males 4 - 5 years.

Gestation Period: Up to 365 days.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 1 month; the youngster remains with its mother for 2 - 3 months.

Food: Feeds on vegetation, fruit, berries, bark and sometimes eggs and rodents.

Lifespan: 12 years; up to 31 in captivity.

Hind claws

As in the case of other sloths, three claws are present on both of its hind feet.

Front claws

As its name suggests, this species has just two claws on its front feet.

A restful existence

Much of the sloth's time is spent resting, hanging off branches.


The body is dark, contrasting with the face. The underparts are also paler.


This is relatively pronounced, with prominent nostrils.


If caught on the ground, these sloths are able to defend themselves against attack using their very sharp claws.

The pads behind the claws help the sloth to maintain its grip.