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Discovery Magazine 4/1/2002

The Slowest of the Slow

Five feet is not far for humans to travel. In fact, that would be about 2 big steps. How long does it take to go two steps—2 seconds, or 5 at the most? What if I told you about an animal whose top speed is 5 feet per minute. That’s right, when moving its fastest on the ground, it takes a sloth an entire 60 seconds to travel 5 feet. But that is at top speed; its normal speed is about 13 feet an hour (about 5 steps for you). The sloth is very slow. Yet, the sloth’s slowness is just one of its interesting qualities.

The sloth lives most of its life in the tops of trees. It sleeps about 18 hours every day (that is where we get the term slothful—meaning lazy). Could you imagine being awake for only 6 hours a day? Much of the sloth’s sleepy time is spent upside-down. It eats, sleeps, and does many other things upside-down for about 15 hours everyday. Because of this upside-down lifestyle, God gave the sloth internal organs (such as the stomach, liver, and spleen) that are located in different places from those of many other mammals.

How do these amazingly slow creatures keep from being eaten by predators? Sloths have long gray or brown hair that blends in with tree leaves. Also, since the sloth moves so slowly, blue-green algae grows in its hair, which helps it blend in even better. Their slow movements and algae camouflage keep them well protected from predators such as jaguars and anacondas.

But even though predators don’t find sloths often, other little creatures do. Moths, beetles, and ticks love to make their home in its shaggy hair. It has been reported that a single sloth can carry 100 moths, 1000 beetles, and thousands of ticks—probably not a pet you would want to sleep at the foot of your bed!

The sloth could not have evolved special organs and its slow metabolism. God’s beautiful design is clearly seen in the upside-down, super-sleepy sloth.

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