With the recent trends on the internet about sloths, one question that I’ve always wondered is why are sloths so slow? after doing some research this is what I found. Sloths because of the environments they live in eat incredibly poor food. Plants do everything they possibly can to guard against being eaten, from tying up material in difficult to digest things like cellulose or lignin to producing compounds to actively reduce the efficiency of their digestion, It’s just how nature is.
For example, you know how when you drink wine, you get that sort of “dry” feeling in your mouth? That’s from tannins in the wine. The astringency from the tannins is what causes the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth following the consumption of unripened fruit or red wine. Tannins can actually bind to proteins from ingested plants and make them nearly impossible to digest! This, over time, makes plants evolutionarily “less desirable” to potential predators as they are quite literally anti-nutritional of the course of many generations.
Sloths have overcome many of these defenses by digesting food for extremely long times. By taking longer to digest the food and developing internal adaptations to do so, they can get energy out of a very abundant resource in the tropics; however, this comes at a price: they are limited in speed! Sloths move extremely slowly, so once they’re spotted, they’re easy game. Fortunately for the sloths, they’ve managed to develop forms of crypsis (is the ability of an organism to avoid observation or detection by other organisms) to avoid being seen. They can move so slowly that they are actually able to host algae and plant material in their fur, making them blend into their surroundings more easily. Moving slowly also draws less attention in general, so they can avoid being spotted that way.