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What Is a Two-Toed Sloth?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

As its name suggests, the two-toed sloth is a mammal with only two toes on each of its front feet. Native to the warm, moist regions of South and Central America, this slow-moving mammal is similar to the three-toed sloth, but slightly larger. It spends much of its life traveling along tree limbs while upside down.

The two-toed sloth is a member of the Megalonychidae family, and it belongs to the genus Choloepus, which translates to “lame foot.” This family contains two types of two toed sloths, along with an extinct giant ground sloth. Megalonyx was a very large sloth, about the size of an elephant, that lived in the North American region millions of years ago. Today, the two known species of two-toed sloths — C. didactylus and C. hoffmani — are believed to be the closest relatives of this extinct mammal.

It is not uncommon to find a two-toed sloth in many parts of Latin America. They primarily inhabit rainforests and mountainous regions. Three-toed sloths can also be found in these areas, but they are slightly smaller than two-toed sloths.

On land a sloth moves quite slowly.
On land a sloth moves quite slowly.

An adult two-toed sloth can reach lengths of up to 2 feet (61 centimeters) long. The average three-toed sloth, on the other hand, will not usually grow to be more than 1.5 feet (45 centimeters) long. A two-toed sloth also weighs in at around 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms), which is slightly heavier than the three-toed sloth's average weight of 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms).

The best way to differentiate between the two-toed sloth and the three-toed is the number of toes that each animal has on its feet. Three-toed sloths have three toes with long claws on all four feet. Two-toed sloths have three toes on their back feet, but only two toes and claws on their front feet.

A two-toed sloth's long toes and claws enable it to firmly grasp branches of trees high up in the air. This animal spends the majority of its life upside down, suspended from tree branches. It will often eat, mate, give birth, and even sleep in the tree tops. In fact, some dead sloths have been found still grasping the branches above them.

On land, the two-toed sloth does not move well at all. This animal will rarely make its way out of the trees to the ground. Urination and defecation, for instance, are a couple reasons that it might venture to the ground. These animals do swim well, however, and they have been known to come out of the trees during the rainy season, slip into the water, and swim to another area.

The color of a two-toed sloth can range from tan to brown to gray. Since they are such slow-moving creatures, however, algae often grows in their fur, making them appear green. The green tinge to their fur helps these sloths blend into their surroundings very well. This camouflage helps protect them from predators, such as jaguars, birds of prey, and humans.

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    • On land a sloth moves quite slowly.
      By: Eric Isselée
      On land a sloth moves quite slowly.