Three-toed sloth and Two-toed sloth

Scientific names: Bradypus variegatus y Choloepus hoffmani.

Distribution range: From Honduras to the North of Argentina and Perú.


What is a sloth?

Sloths are descendants from Megatherium, a big mammal that lived from Early Pliocene to Early Heliocene, and they are included in Xenarthra Order.
These animals are recognized because they have a cute appearance and also to live in the tropical forest. Besides, they are the main face in publicity related to tourist attractions and souvenirs in tropical countries. But not many people know that these species are threatened for deforestation, hunting, and illegal wildlife traffic.

Sloth’ Evolution History.

Megatherium was a bigger mammal that lived in America with other ancient animals like armadillo and tamandua. This creature had a friendly appearance like other sloths, but it was one of the largest mammals that walked on the sides of its feet because it had claws in its arms that it used to get food. The giant ground sloth ate fruits like prehistoric avocados and leaves from the trees. The avocados seeds were dispersed because of the sloth poop3.

Prehistoric sloths were so big, but they had predators like saber- fang tigers. However, sloths have reached to survive until our days, although because of the evolution process, they have gotten a little size and adopted arboreal habits.

How many toed sloths are left in the world?

Nowadays we can find six species of sloths that live in Central and South America and those are: Choloepus hoffmani, Choloepus didactylus, Bradypus variegatus, Bradypus pygmeus, Bradypus tridactylus, and Bradypus torquatus2.

Sloths in Costa Rica.

What does sloth mean?

Sloth in Spanish has different names like “Cucula”, “Perica”, “Oso perezoso”, “Perezoso” and “Perica ligera”, but all of these words mean the same thing: slow1.

Where do sloths live?

They can be found in the trees in the tropical forest, although they are not easy to see because they have a camouflage the same color as the trees and leaves.

Sometimes people can find a sloth crossing the road in cities or sleeping in parks, and they usually stop to watch them or take pictures.

However, speedway researchers have found that sloths cross the road because the way is in the middle of their habitat. It can be dangerous for them because they are so slow and could be crushed by cars. One solution for this problem could be the animal bridges that offer an artificial way to get to the other side without crossing the road. Still, sloths need to go down from one tree to get to another, and they are not as fast in the ground as they are in the water.

Do people eat sloths?

Even though some people in rural areas could eat the “Osos perezosos”, the truth is that these animals are considered very representative of nature in the country. It is one of the national symbols of Costa Rica, protected by law, which means hunting or using a sloth as food is forbidden in this protected country. Besides, sloths are used in publicity in many media, airplanes, the internet, and murals. It is mainly because of their calm and harmless sloth personality.

Sloths’ Natural History1.

The Xenarthra Order includes Bradypodidae and Magalonychidae Families. The three-toed sloth is in the first family and has long arms with five fingers, but three are longer than the rest. Bradypus variegatus is gray-green colored, and it has long fur that protects it from the rain. This species of sloth lives in the tropical forest, spends time in the trees, eats leaves, and only goes down to defecate.
The reproduction season is between March and April. The female is pregnant from 160 to 180 days; after that, she will have only one offspring.

On the other hand, the two-toed sloth is in the second family and has five fingers, but in this case, only two are longer than the rest. This sloth is grey-brown colored and lives in a wet forest where it can eat leaves and fruits. The female is pregnant for 263 days and will have one offspring.

Why do sloths move so slowly?

Both species of sloth are too slow when they keep moving because they do not make the digestion process fast, so it is more common to find a sloth eating or sleeping3.

How long can a sloth hold its breath?

Not many people hope to see a sloth swimming, but they are excellent swimmers, although they do not go under the water.

Are sloths dangerous? Do sloths bite?

The sloths can be aggressive and use their claws as weapons against predators, although a sloth fight or bite is not joint. In wildlife Sanctuaries like Natuwa, sloths arrive to be checked by a veterinarian and biologist. These professionals must be careful with the bits of the two-fingered sloth, as they bit very hard! And also with the firm grip of the sloth.

Seven interesting facts about the “Osos perezosos”

1) They hang from branches of the trees during their life, even when they eat or sleep.

2) Are sloths nocturnal or daytime? Both species can go out to look for food during the day or during the night1.

3) People generally believe sloths’ favorite tree is the guarumo tree. That is because they spend much time on this type of tree. And also, because the guarumo tree does not have much foliage like other trees in the forest, it is easy to spot them.

4) Do sloths have a tail? Yes, they do, but a two-toed sloth has its tail hidden inside the fur.

5) How often do sloths poop? The sloths go down from the trees to poop once per week. When Bradypus variegatus defecates, it digs a hole to bury its excrements, but Choloepus hoffmanni does not do it1.

6) How long do sloths live? They can live up to 20 years in the wild.

7) International Sloth Day will be celebrated on October 20th.

Requirements of the sloths in captivity, diet, and enrichments.

“Osos perezosos” or “pericas ligeras” need a space to climb and move. In captivity, they need an enclosure as big as possible because they need trees and ponds. Therefore, they do not usually change the tree where they live frequently. The “pericas ligeras” are not very friendly animals. However, they do not have problems sharing with other sloths if they have all the necessary elements. The enclosure requires tall trees, water, and lots of space to provide the sloth with a jungle environment.

Sloths are not the fastest animals in tropical forests, so they need a suitable enclosure to avoid a sedentary life. In addition, climbing trees, hanging from branches, and taking long walks in the sloth’s facility will prevent diseases in their arms and malformations in their fingers.

Typically, a sloth diet includes leaves, fruits, and some vegetables like carrots, spinach, and beans.

Are sloths endangered animals?

No, they are not endangered animals, but threats like deforestation, hunting, and illegal wildlife traffic harm their populations in the wild.

Can you have a sloth as a pet?

Sloth as a pet or for sale is not legal in Costa Rica since the Wildlife Conservation Law was established in 1998. It says that having sloths as pets or other rainforest pets is not permitted, and the person who does not obey the law must pay a fee or go to jail for three months to one year.

On the contrary, if you wanted to help this species, you would adopt a sloth. So, what is it? You can economically contribute to a sloth sanctuary, and the people who work there can use your support to buy food and medicines for the sloths under their responsibility.


At the NATUWA Wildlife Sanctuary, we work to offer a second chance at life to many wild animals, such as sloths. We collaborate in its conservation and rehabilitation.


1Mora, J. (2000). Los mamíferos silvestres de Costa Rica. San José, Costa Rica: EUNED.

2Organización de las Naciones Unidas. (No date). Salvando a los tiernos perezosos. Retrieved from:

3Ted-Ed. (2017). Why are sloths so slow? [Video Archive]. Retrieved from: