Linnaeus’s Two-Toed Sloth

STATUSLeast Concern


DIETLeaves, twigs, flowers, fruit; occasionally eggs and insects

RANGENorthern South America, including Peru and Brazil

HABITATStrictly arboreal, live in the upper canopy of trees in the rainforest

Linnaeus’s Two-Toed Sloth

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Program and General Information

Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths are native to the tropical rainforest canopies in Central and Northern South America. They are arboreal and spend the majority of their time up in the trees. Two-toed sloths can reach up to 21-29 inches long and weigh around 10-20 pounds. The coloration of sloth’s fur varies from gray-brown to beige with a greenish cast due to algae growth, and unlike most animals, their fur grows from their stomach to their back. Sloths are herbivores that eat primarily leaves, flowers, and fruit; they will occasionally eat eggs and insects as well. Breeding season occurs throughout the year with peak season being March-April. After a 10 month gestation period, females will give birth to a single young. The young will stay with their mothers from 9 months – 2 years, after which they will branch off on their own. Females reach maturity at 3 years old, and males at 4-5 years old.


Sloths are herbivores, meaning they eat only plant matter. Their diet consists primarily of leaves, flowers, twigs, and fruit. Sloths may occasionally eat eggs and insects as well. Sloths eat by grasping vegetation with one foot, pulling it to their mouths, and chewing it repeatedly.

Because they live high up in the trees, sloths are able to reach leaves on high, narrow branches that other animals can’t reach. Sloths are nocturnal. They spend about 15 (or more!) hours a day asleep, waking up at night to look for food. In order to find enough food, each sloth has a home range of about 10 acres.

A sloth’s diet isn’t very nutritional, so to compensate it has a large, multi-chambered stomach that is able to hold large quantities of food. they also chew their food for a very long time before swallowing in order to maximize digestibility. Two-toed sloths have one of the slowest digestive rates of any mammal. It takes approximately 30 days for their food to travel through their digestive system; in fact, sloths only poop once a week!

Habitat and Range

Linnaeus’s two-toed slows are native to Central and Northern South America. They are an arboreal species that can be found high up in the tree canopies. Sloths may move to a new tree each night, but typically won’t travel more than 40 yards per night. When sleeping, sloths often curl up in a ball in the fork of a tree.

Sloths curved claws are excellent for climbing, but can make traversing land very difficult. Because of this, sloths rarely leave the trees and only come down if its necessary, like when they need to defecate. Sloths may be clumsy on land but are actually excellent swimmers. They can drop from a tree into a river to swim across it while doing the breaststroke.

Common Physical Features

Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths are 1 of 2 living species of two-toed sloth (the other being Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth). They can grow up to 21-29 inches long and weigh around 10-20 pounds making them slightly larger than the three-toed species. Two-toed sloths get their name from their two front toes; like other sloths, they have three toes on their hindlimbs. The coloration of sloth’s fur varies from gray-brown to beige and is lighter around the face. They have a short, fine undercoat and an overcoat of longer, coarser hair. Their long curved claws allow them to hang from and move across branches and act almost like a safety harness for sloths as they hang. These sloths also have incredibly strong core muscles and can support themselves even when hanging by only two limbs. Two-toed sloths have long, pig-like snouts and can sweat from the very tip of their nose when hot or stressed. They also have hairless pads on their hands and feet.

Adaptations: The sloth is the only mammal whose hair grows in the opposite direction. To accommodate their upside-down lifestyle, the hair parts in the middle of the belly and grows toward the back, which allows rainwater to run off their bodies and prevent them from getting soaked during rainstorms.

Each strand of the sloth’s fur has a unique groove running along the hair shaft that traps moisture. Because sloths are so slow moving and are sedentary for most of their time, the moisture trapped in these grooves helps facilitate algae growth. Algae growth on sloths is considered a mutual symbiotic relationship, a close ecological relationship between individuals of two species that benefits all involved. The moisture in the sloth’s fur provides an excellent home for the algae, and in return this algae causes the sloth’s fur to take on a greenish hue which helps the sloth to camouflage from predators in the green of the tree canopies. Sloth’s fur is also home to a variety of invertebrate species, some of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world. The algae provides food for the invertebrates, and the sloth’s feces provide a perfect home for invertebrates to lay their eggs!

Sloth’s spend about 15 (sometimes more) hours a day sleeping and become most active at night where they will look for food to eat. They have the lowest and most variable body temperature of any mammal, ranging from 74-92 degrees Fahrenheit, due in part to the fact that sloths can’t shiver to keep warm. In order to regulate their temperature, sloths need to move in and out of the sun. If the temperature drops to low, however, sloths are at a risk of dying because the bacteria in their gut will stop working to digest their food.

Their variable body temperature coupled with their reduced muscles and weight allows the sloth to move around without expending a ton of energy, which is important because they do not receive a ton of energy from the food they eat (i.e. leaves and twigs). In order to compensate for this lack of nutrition and to help them conserve more energy, sloths have large, multi-chambered stomachs that can hold huge quantities of food. Sloths chew their food for a very long time before swallowing in order to maximize digestibility, but it can still take up to a month to digest. Although they do not need to expend a ton of energy, the energy that sloths are able to get from their food only allows for very slow movement, which explains their slow-paced lifestyle.

A sloth’s main defense is camouflage, but it can also use its sharp teeth and claws to protect itself. Sloths’ nails and teeth continuously grow throughout their life. Sloth’s nails are actually made out of bone and are covered by a nail sheath. Although they lack true canine teeth, sloths do have sharp teeth for tearing off leaves and bark. In the wild, sloths naturally file down their nails and teeth while moving through the trees and eating.

Sloths have poor eyesight and rely heavily on their sense of smell. Males will scent mark branches to establish a meeting place for breeding.

Behavior and Life Cycle

Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths are generally solitary animals and only come together for breeding. Breeding occurs throughout the year, but peak season is typically March-April. Females appear to initiate breeding and will vocalize via a high-pitched scream to advertise to males she is ready to mate. If more than one male reaches the female at the same tie, they will fight while hanging from their hindlimbs. The winner gets the chance to mate with the female. The mating process only lasts a few seconds, after which the male will leave the female to rear the young. Females will give birth to a single young after a 10 month gestation. The baby climbs onto the mom’s belly and clings while nursing for four to five weeks. Hiding in the mom’s fur provides protection for the vulnerable newborn. Young sloths can begin eating solid food about 10 days after birth and obtain the strength to move on their own after 5 weeks, but will remain with their mothers for up to 9 months. When the young sloth is ready to branch out on its own, the mother will leave the tree for the young to inherit. Several sloths can live in a similar home range without competing for food or space. Females reach maturity at 3 years old, and males at 4-5 years old.

Conservation Messaging

Conservation of the Natural World
Habitat destruction and human encroachment continue to be major threats to sloth populations. At one point, rainforests covered almost 40% of the earth’s surface, but excessive logging and burning has reduced that percentage to only 6%. Every second approx. one and a half acres of rainforest are lost to unsustainable agricultural practices.

The fragmentation of the rainforest is forcing sloths to climb down from their trees and drag themselves along the forest floor in order find enough food, which leaves these slow moving animals vulnerable to predation. There is also the possibility that they may get struck by passing cars and trucks when crossing roads built through the rainforest.

Sloths are hunted for their coat, meat, and claws and now face the new threat of being collected as part of the illegal pet trade.

What can we do?: One way you can help is by buying sustainable products. Products such as chocolate and coffee that come from the rainforest can be harvested in a more sustainable way. Instead of buying these products from sources that may be contributing to the destruction of the rainforest through destructive harvesting, look for options that help aid conservation efforts by using sustainably sourced ingredients. By purchasing products from certified organizations such as Bird Friendly or Dove Dark Chocolate, you are helping in the conservation of forests and habitats around the world!

Another way you can help is by limiting the amount of waste you accumulate. See if you can reuse something before you throw it away. If we all do this, the demand for resources found in the rainforest may decrease, helping to preserve the sloths’ one and only home. Remember: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”

Along with being hunted for their fur and meat, sloths are also captured for the illegal pet trade. Never remove an animal from the wild! Removing them from their natural environment can be detrimental to the wild populations. And while you may think they would make a cute pet, sloths would NOT make a good pet. They have a lot of special requirements including proper nutrients, space, heating, lighting, humidity, etc. Caring for a sloth is hard work, and the majority of people are not properly equipped to handle them.

Fun Facts

  • The sloth’s internal organs, including stomach, spleen, and liver, are located in different areas due to their upside-down lifestyle.
  • Sloths are related to armadillos and anteaters (all in family Pilosa).
  • Sloths have weak hind legs and are unable to stand or walk. To move on land they must use their strong front legs to crawl and pull their bodies along Although considered solitary, groups of female sloths will sometimes occupy the same tree.
  • A sloth’s voice sounds like the hiss of a deflating balloon, but they can also squeal and grunt as needed.
  • Our sloth uses our scent to identify us since he cant actually see that well. This means we can’t switch up our shampoo or deodorant or he may not recognize us!
  • Bean gets his name from the cocoa and coffee beans found in the rainforest. The pygmy sloth is critically endangered and the maned sloth is vulnerable.
  • Thousands of years ago, large ground sloths roamed the United States. They ranged in size from an average-size dog to that of an elephant!


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