Thorns. Spikes. Hooks. Poisons. Plants can be dangerous, especially in the rainforest, a diverse and densely populated ecosystem where the competition is intense. But this video, a clip from the BBC’s How Nature Works, also titled Secrets of Our Living Planet, is chock-full of sloth zen.
How does this arboreal mammal survive by eating plants full of inedible toxins that most animals can’t digest? Chris Packham narrates:
“This bizarre body has developed as one big adaptation to a specialized diet. She eats just a few kinds of tree… Her gut has developed a special system of pouches to separate food in various stages of digestion, and it hosts specialized bacteria that break down the leaves. But digesting can take weeks. This means she only has space to eat a very small helping of leaves a day. The weight of a small egg.
“She gets so little energy from this diet that she must keep movement to a minimum. This explains the famous slowness of sloths. She has almost become part of the forest furniture – and other creatures have started to move in.”
“Sloths have a mutualistic relationship with the ecosystem living in their fur – this means that both the sloth and the organisms living on them benefit from the relationship. Sloths provide a home for their symbionts and the algae provide sloths with coloration and camouflage.
“Although it was once believed that sloths eat the algae from their fur, scientists now know that this doesn’t happen.
“Some of the fungi found on sloths have antibacterial properties and have been found to be active against some parasites and cancers. This might help sloths to resist certain diseases, and may also help other animals, including humans.
“No one knows for sure what benefit the moths provide for sloths, but the sloths do not seem to mind them. The moths might eat the algae and fungi from the sloth’s fur (although this is not known for certain), and they lay their eggs in the sloth’s feces.”
Watch this sloth video next: Why are sloths so slow? Also:
• What do baby sloths sound like?
• The Pygmy Sloths of Isla Escudo de Veraguas
• How do plants defend themselves against caterpillars and elephants?
• Sir David Attenborough visits the same exact plant 40 years apart