Is there a mammal more intriguing, cute and downright odd than a sloth? They spend so much time hanging around in trees that they start to look like them. That makes them quite hard to spot, and even harder to photograph!
To give ourselves the best chance of seeing them we booked a tour in the Arenal area called ‘Sloths and Toucans’; this promised us a good look at these most iconic of Costa Rican species.
Our guide Edson took us first to an area beside a river which he described as a sort of sloth corridor. Along the footpath we came across quite a few sloths in the trees; or rather Edson did, as he knew just where to look. Sloths don’t travel around much, and he knew their favourite trees and hiding places. He had a name for each one: Raoul, Ronaldo, Walter, Rebecca, Scarlet. Many were sleeping and all we saw was the ball of fur, but a few showed their faces!
As we walked between sightings, and while we waited for sloths to move (!) Edson shared some interesting facts.
Firstly, although the two types of sloth are known as two-toed and three-toed, they actually both have three claws, or ‘toes’, on their hind limbs. It would be more accurate to call the ‘two-toed’ sloth a ‘two-fingered’ sloth, as the difference between them both can be found only on their front limbs. They are actually quite distinct species but have evolved similar characteristics and habits.
One reason they are so hard to spot is all the algae on their fur. They have a symbiotic relationship with this. The sloth provides the algae with shelter and water (sloth fur is highly absorbent); meanwhile the algae provide the sloth with camouflage. Sloths’ fur also supports an entire mini-ecosystem, including several species of moths and beetles found nowhere else on earth!
And did you know that the fastest a sloth ever gets is while mating? They can accomplish this in just five seconds according to Edson! I was struck when I read the other day on a post from Dianne, the Rambling Ranger, that,
‘When it comes to sexual endurance, the Monarch Butterflies put humans to shame. A pair of Monarchs will mate for up to 15 hours! They start mid-afternoon and finish shortly after sunrise.’
Who would have guessed that between a flighty butterfly and an almost soporific sloth, it would be the latter that does it in just five seconds while the butterfly takes 15 hours!
Another of Edson’s facts was that the mother gives birth up her tree, shooting the baby out on the umbilical cord so he/she hangs like a bungee jumper before being hauled up to cling to her fur.
Sloths are also quite nippy on their once-a-week descent to the ground to poop, as it’s much riskier down there for them. One of the other guests asked why they don’t just do this in their tree; Edson explained that this would leave a scent that would make them easier for predators to find, so they need to climb down and bury their poo. I’ve read another theory online however; that the poo marks out their tree for potential mates to find.
And he told us that they swim much faster than they walk; and he showed us a video on his phone that he had taken of a sloth swimming.
Talking of phones, not only did I get quite a few photos myself, Edson cleverly took photos on some of our phones through his telescope with excellent results. Here are a few of his shots; spot the bonus iguana in one of them!
When I saw a few days ago that Tina’s theme for the Lens Artists challenge this week was to be Odds and Ends, I assumed, wrongly, that she would be asking us to share images of odd things. I thought immediately of these cute but decidedly odd creatures. It turns out, however, that what she is looking for is odd photos, that have never really fitted a challenge. Well, because quite a lot of my posts aren’t linked to any challenges, I don’t really recognise that as an issue; any of my shots has the potential to make it into a post at some point. So I’m taking the liberty of going ahead with my original plan even if it isn’t quite what Tina intended!
As to the ‘Ends’, after our walk along ‘Sloth Alley’ we drove to another area where we ended our tour with a sighting of two toucans, a Collared Aracari Toucan and a Yellow-throated Toucan.
I visited Costa Rica in February 2022