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7 Types of Sloths: Species, Facts and Photos

Slow but sure, sloths are fascinating creatures. The tree-dwelling species display a wealth of diversity, each marked by distinct differences. Continue reading to explore the types of sloths that make up this group. 

We also discussed recent discoveries on new sloth species and enlightening facts about extinct ground sloths. Read on to learn more.

Sloth Classification

Sloths belong to the Superorder Xenarthra and Order Pilosa, grouped with anteaters and extinct ground sloths. 

Today, there are only two surviving genera: Bradypus, known as three-toed sloths, and Choloepus, commonly called two-toed sloths. There are seven extant sloth species, five from the former genus and two from the latter.

Their names are misleading since both types possess three toes on each rear limb. The difference lies in the number of digits on the forelimbs. However, they share the same distribution. 

They all live in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. As arboreal creatures, sloths spend most of their time in tree branches. 

These genera diverged from a shared ancestor roughly 28 million years ago, their similarities resulting from convergent evolution to adjust to a tree-dwelling lifestyle.

The following sections discuss the similarities and differences of each sloth species.

Related Read: Sloth Facts.

7 Types of Sloth Species

1. Brown-throated Sloth (Bradypus variegatus)

Brown-throated Sloth
Photo by Krunal Desai - Wildlife Photography on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth is an animal species primarily native to South and Central America. 

They inhabit many new-world tropical forests, though some also dwell in semi-deciduous forests, subtropical lowlands, and swamps. Even with weak hind legs, these arboreal creatures are also skilled swimmers.

Notably, these sloths have a distinctive brown coloring on their throat and head and a dual-layer coat. The fur layers vary in texture; the outer layer is thick and woolly, while the inner layer boasts short, soft, and fine fur. 

The outer layer often holds a greenish tint due to algae residue, providing camouflage. They also have long limbs with three clawed toes on each.

Baby sloths, born fully furred and clawed, exhibit resilience early in life. Despite weaning in four to five weeks, they usually cling to their mother’s underside for five months or more. 

Their survival technique is built on camouflage and slow-motion, elements that significantly decrease predation risk due to reduced visibility. 

Their dietary habits align with their slow pace; they survive on a herbivorous diet consisting primarily of trees, including leaves, flowers, and fruits. 

Connected to their slow pace, sloths have one of the lowest3 mass-specific metabolic rates in the mammalian world. This aligns with their slow pace of ingestion, reflecting their overall energy dynamics.

Related read: Slowest Animals in the World.

2. Maned Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus torquatus)

Maned Three-toed Sloth
Photo by deboas on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Maned Three-toed Sloths live in patches of the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. Reminiscent of other three-toed counterparts in size and build, their distinguishing element is their fur. 

Particularly in males, 6-inch fur extends from their neck to their shoulder region, creating a "maned" appearance. The female sloth, along with infants, exhibits no such mane. Regarding diet, they are strict arboreal folivores, meaning the sloths eat leaves exclusively. 

Despite being downlisted to vulnerable status in 20114, Maned Three-toed Sloths are still threatened. Deforestation and disturbance in the last three decades have led to a fragmented and declining habitat. The threat of roadkill and illegal trade also affects their population.

3. Pale-throated Sloth (Bradypus tridactylus)

Pale-throated Sloth
Photo by Fernando Flores on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Pale-throated Sloth, one of the three-toed sloth species, resides primarily within tropical rain forests from southern Central America to northern South America.

Recognizable traits of this creature include a rounded head with a blunt nose, essentially earless, and sporting a minimal tail. Its body is draped in long, coarse hair, a fitting disguise within its leafy habitat. Distinguishing males is simple. They display a bright patch of yellow or orange across their backs.

As a herbivore, the Pale-throated Sloth survives solely on a diet of tree twigs, buds, and leaves.

4. Pygmy Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)

Pygmy Three-toed Sloth
Photo by Lider Sucre on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Pygmy Three-toed Sloth, alternatively known as the monk sloth or dwarf sloth, is primarily found in the mangroves and interior of Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a small Caribbean island off Panama. 

Resembling their larger counterparts, the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, these dwarfs maintain a distinctive facial coloration with buff faces and clay-orange fur surrounding dark eye circles.

They have long, bushy hair on their heads and shoulders, creating an illusion of a hood against the shorter facial hair. The sloth's throat has a brown-gray hue, while the dorsum is speckled, highlighted by a dark stripe down the middle. 

Unfortunately, Pygmy Three-toed Sloths are critically endangered. Their restricted habitat continues to degrade, causing a steady decline in their quality of life and territory. According to recent estimates, there are about 2,000 and 2,500 wild sloths.

5. Southern Maned Sloth (Bradypus crinitus)

The Southern Maned Sloth, a species native to Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo states, stands distinct from its northern counterpart. 

Before the recent taxonomic revision, six sloth species were recognized. In 2022, genetic analysis and field observations confirmed the seventh type of sloth1.

To distinguish Southern Maned Sloths, look out for their flattened skulls, rounded jaws, and expanded cheekbones. They also carry a hairy coconut-like head, hence their scientific name crinitus, which means hairy.

6. Linnaeus's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus didactylus)

Linnaeus's Two-toed Sloth
Photo by Dave Pape on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Linnaeus's Two-toed Sloth, also known as the southern two-toed sloth, resides in tropical forest canopies. Naturally accustomed to Central America and northern South America's ecosystem, it can also be spotted in parts of Brazil and Peru.

Their fur color varies from brownish-yellow to a pale brown hue. Interestingly, in the wild, algae growing on their fur during the rainy season can lend a greenish tint to their appearance. But you'll find their belly fur a bit lighter, lacking an undercoat.

Diet-wise, Linnaeus Two-toed Sloth is primarily a herbivore. It feeds on vegetables, berries, leaves, small twigs, and fruits. In rare instances, insects and other small prey become part of their diet. They hydrate by consuming water from the vegetation around them and by lapping dew.

7. Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)

Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth
Photo by Geoff Gallice on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth, a native of Central and South America, flourishes in the rainforest canopy from Costa Rica to Brazil. The Andes act as a natural barrier, creating two distinct regions for these creatures.

These types of sloths possess rounded heads with flattened faces, with small snouts protruding from them. Hair, in tan, blonde, and light brown hues, envelops their body. Their ears, mostly covered with hair, are round and thick. 

Dark markings on the shoulder and forearm, which are absent in this species, set it apart from Linnaeus's Two-toed Sloth.

Interesting behavior patterns have been seen on Barro Colorado Island - Hoffmann's. Instead of being diurnal, Two-toed Sloths here are mainly nocturnal due to the competition2 with the Brown-throated sloth. The diet of these sloths consists of leaves, buds, tender twigs, young plant shoots, fruits, and flowers.

Extinct Ground Sloth Species

Ground sloths, a diverse set of extinct sloths, hailed from the mammalian superorder Xenarthra

Today, all six families of these remarkable creatures hold no living representatives. Sizes among the varied species varied drastically; the hefty genera Megatherium and Eremotherium rivaled modern elephants in stature.

These sloths led herbivorous lives, with some species browsing vegetation while others were grazers. Interestingly, ground sloths may have adopted a stationary bipedal stance, enabling their forelimbs to gather food and fortify their defense. However, their ability to move in this upright posture still needs to be determined.

Around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, these beasts met an abrupt end - falling victim to the Quaternary extinction event that erased most of the large mammals in North America. 

Whether this dramatic shift was sparked by climatic change, the arrival of human hunters or even a combination of both elements is still under investigation.

The mummified skin of a Mylodontid ground sloth has been found in Cueva del Milodón, Chile. Aided by new research, the skin sample displayed at Argentina's Museum of La Plata is approximately 13,200 years old. 

This ground sloth mummy is physical proof of a time when extinct sloths intermingled with early South American humans.

1

Miranda, F. R., Garbino, G. S. T., Machado, F. A., Perini, F. A., Santos, F. R., & Casali, D. M. (2022). Taxonomic revision of maned sloths, subgenusBradypus(Scaeopus), Pilosa, Bradypodidae, with revalidation of Bradypus crinitusGray, 1850. Journal of Mammalogy, 104(1), 86–103.

2

Sunquist, M. E., & Montgomery, G. G. (1973). Activity Patterns and Rates of Movement of Two-Toed and Three-Toed Sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni and Bradypus infuscatus). Journal of Mammalogy, 54(4), 946–954.

3

Cliffe, R. N., Haupt, R. J., Avey‐Arroyo, J., & Wilson, R. P. (2015). Sloths like it hot: ambient temperature modulates food intake in the brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus). PeerJ, 3, e875.

4

Chiarello, A., Santos, P., Moraes-Barros, N. & Miranda, F. (2022). Bradypus torquatusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T3036A210442361. 

By Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.

Photo by Palu Malerba on Pexels.
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