By Emilia Benjamin-Robbins
The sloth family is divided into the two-toed sloths and the three-toed sloths. They live in a terrestrial environment; the rainforest of Central and South America. They spend most of their lives in the canopy of trees, rarely setting foot on the ground. They can sleep up to eighteen hours in a day. They live in trees with dense branches and areas exposed to hot rays of sunlight which allows them to experience both protection and exposure to warmth when needed.They require the trees in their habitat to be close to each other so they can climb from tree to tree without having to walk on the ground. While they are excellent climbers and can hang upside down for days, they are helpless when on the ground. Sloths have such little muscle mass that they are enable to walk, making it neccessary for them to drag themselves when on land. Sloths will drop into rivers under the trees they are in and swim breaststroke until finding a new tree to climb into. Three-toed sloths are an endangered species due to deforestation. People are clearing the forests they live in to raise cattle on and build plantations on.
Fertilisation, Development and Parental Care:
Female sloths reach sexual maturity when they are around 3 years old while males mature around 5 years old. When female sloths are ready to mate they vocalise to try and attract a male. They will usually mate with the first male they encounter. Fertilisation is internal and takes place in the females' tree. Once they have mated the male immediately leaves, providing no parental care for its young. The embryo develops internally, making it viviparity development. It is best for the embryo to develop internally because the female sloths wouldn't necessarily be able to protect their young from predators if they were to have their gestation period externally. Female sloths give birth to one baby each year. They have one baby at a time because they are very slow creatures and need to protect their young until it is able to fend for itself. Their gestation period is between five and eight months. When the baby is born it clings to its mother for the next six to nine months and then slowly ventures off on its own. They do not go far and keep in touch with their mothers until they reach two years of age. An advantage that the sloths have on producing one baby each year is that it can focus on taking care of its young. A disadvantage is that if the baby does not survive the female has to wait a year to have another one. Female sloths do not prepare for looking after their young , they just hold onto them for the first few months of their life, protecting them from predators such as jaguars. They live in a stable environment (K selection) and have few offspring. Sloths have a 30% mortality rate.
Sloths are such lethargic animals they often have small beetles, moths and algae living on their fur. Their main source of food is leaves and twigs, giving them very little energy to move around. They have a low metabolism and low body temperature. Sloths are only able to climb 1.8 to 2.4 metres per minute.
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