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What Is a Maned Sloth?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

The maned sloth is an arboreal mammal found primarily in the southeastern part of the Brazilian rainforest, near the Atlantic coast. They tend to be somewhere between 20 and 30 inches tall (50 to 76 cm), which makes them larger than any of the other varieties of sloth. These animals have tan or gray coloring, with a bushy mane of black fur on the back area of the neck. They are also called the "three toed sloth" for the three hooked claws they use to hang upside down from trees. The maned sloth is considered endangered, partly due to the destruction of the rainforest and partly due to predation.

This animal spends virtually all its time hanging in trees, and much of that time is spent sleeping. The maned sloths have adapted with a very slow metabolism, allowing them to eat very low-nutrition foods, including leaves that other animals can’t survive on. Basically, they take in very little energy with the food they eat, but they spend so much time being still and sleeping that it doesn’t really matter.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The slow ground movement of the maned sloth makes it very easy for predators, such as jaguars, to attack it, especially if it comes out of its tree. For this reason, the animals only come down a few times a week, mostly just to urinate and eliminate waste. They will often stay in the same tree for as long as possible, but if they ever decide to find another tree, this also requires that they trek across the ground and expose themselves to danger. Experts suggest that the animals can swim very well, and can actually move faster in the water than they can on land. In the trees, they grow moss in their fur, which makes them harder to see, and they are generally quite safe.

Humans have been hunting the maned sloth since ancient times, and even though they are now protected by law, experts think there is a significant amount of illegal hunting, and they are also massively threatened by the loss of the rainforest. Overall, this combination of threats is considered a major danger for the species, and experts believe the potential for extinction exists if something isn’t done quickly enough.

Even though they don’t look very similar physically, and share very little in terms of lifestyle similarities, sloths are in the same family as anteaters and armadillos. This family of animals, known as the Xenarthra family, is one of the most ancient mammalian groups. In prehistoric times, the Xenarthra were much more diverse and widespread than they are now.

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