The poor sloth gets a bad name. One of the seven deadly sins, sloth means “reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness”. Despite how their behaviour can appear, the sloth is actually working hard at being himself.
The sloth has been around for 60 million years and is related to anteaters and armadillos. The reason they don’t move very fast is because they live on very un-nutritious leaves and have a very slow metabolism. Their lifestyle lets them make the most of the energy they ingest. They are most active at night which means that for most of history we will have observed them during the day when they are resting, adding to the slothful image we have of them.
Most of their time is spent in the trees, hanging from branches without any effort at all thanks to their amazing claws with their vice like grip. Their upside down view of the world gives them a very different perspective on life… Even their fur is upside down. It grows the other way round to other animals so it hangs down when they are upside down.
When they do venture from their branches, it is most likely to be heading to the toilet. They leave the safety of the treetops for the ground where they are vulnerable. As far as I can tell, scientists haven’t yet reached a conculsion about why they make this dangerous and arduous trip once a week when they could defecate in the treetops.
One theory relates to the creatures which live on the sloth. The sloth is in fact a miniture, slow moving ecosystem. Their fur gets coated in algae which the sloth eats and which adds nutrients to it’s poor diet. Moths also live in the fur and it is thought that the moths lay their eggs on the ground making it important for the sloth to venture down. It is important to keep the moths happy because they fertilise the algae which, in addition to providing food, also helps the sloth to camouflage. Beetles, cockroaches, fungi and ciliates can also be found living on the sloth and can provide an additional source of food.
Sloths are at their speediest, at 13 metres a minute, in water of all places. Despite what you might expect from these tree dwellers, they are actually pretty good swimmers! They use their long neck to help them keep their head above water and can slow their metabolism even further which allows them to stay under water for up to 40 minutes.
Perhaps it goes without saying, if the sloth creeps into your life, it might be a message to slow down. But it might also be a lesson about pacing. Pacing is a concept used to help people with chronic illness or fatigue to manage their pain and energy levels to allow them to do things they couldn’t without pacing. It essentially means do a little of something, rest, do a little more rather than pushing through and burning out. Go slow and steady rather than going through boom and bust cycles.