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10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Sloths

New Rainforest Exhibit Home To World's Smallest Monkeys sloth
Peter MacDiarmid, Getty

The world had a big ol’ laugh when Kristen Bell turned into a crying mess after laying eyes on the first sloth she ever saw that wasn’t separated from her by metal bars or an unbreakable sheet of glass. The internet might have had some fun at her expense, but if they bothered to look up some of these amazing and astounding facts about sloths, they might have been the ones crying into their hands on YouTube and Bell would’ve had the last laugh.

1. They aren’t that slothful

Sloths have long had a reputation for just lying around and doing nothing for most of their existence. That’s why they’re called “nature’s brother-in-law.” A recent study, however, negates that long held belief. The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany studied the brain wave patterns of three-toed sloths in the Panamanian rainforest instead of those in captivity by fixing a brainwave cap to each of the animals. The data showed that the wild sloths only slept just over 9 1/2 hours a day and not the 15 to 20 hours on average that science recorded from captive sloths.

2. They can retain their grip after death

rainforest sloth hanging
Oli Scarff, Getty

Since they spend most of their time in trees, sloths’ muscles and limbs have been engineered to climb trunks to find food and escape predators. They spend so much time in the trees that the tree holds their very life in the balance, sometimes even after they’ve died, according to National Geographic. Thanks to their claws and muscles, the grip of a sloth is so strong that sometimes when they die, they are found still clinging to the very branch they were lounging from when they were alive.

3. All sloths have three-toes, even the “two-toed” ones

The name might sound like a simple way to describe this gentle creature, but even names in nature can be misleading. It’s true that two-toed sloths only have two claws on their forelimbs, but both the two-toed and three-toed sloth have three claws on their hind-limbs. That means two-toed sloths have “two fingers,” not “two toes”. The discrepancy derives from the names in the Spanish translation for the two-toed sloth, “Perezoso de Dos Dedos.” “Dedos” means fingers, which caused some confusion for the English translation.

4. There used to be “mega-sloths”

Sloths may not look very menacing or even dangerous, but if their ancestors caught you, they could make you wish for a quick and swift death. As early as 10,000 years ago in the Pliocene epoch, the giant Megatherium (aka “the giant sloth”) roamed the Earth. They lived in what is now South America and have been described as the same size as the modern rhinoceros before their extinction. They were mainly herbivores, but some paleontologists suggest they could have been “opportunistic carnivores” if they needed to defend themselves from predators or other Megatheriums.

5. Its dirtiness creates its own ecosystem for other life

London Zoo Holds Its Annual Animal Stocktake sloth
Daniel Berehulak, Getty

Spending most of your time in a tree can take it’s toll, especially if you come from a species that doesn’t consider showering a priority. The sloth’s hairy body has developed a deep groove that serves as the habitat for colonies of symbiotic algae that can turn the sloth’s fur green during the rainy season to help it camouflage with its environment. Moths have also been found the flurry region where they feed off of the algae and hide from potential predators.

6. Sloths only go to the bathroom once a week

Part of the reason why so many people consider sloths to be slothful is their diet. They have a very low metabolism and have to eat a lot to get the nutrients their body needs. Since it takes so long for a sloth to digest the food it eats, it only urinates or defecates about once a week, usually during the few times it leaves the tree.

7. Three-toed sloths can turn their heads almost 360 degrees

Being able to turn your head almost all the way around might not serve as much function in nature as having claws or sharp teeth (unless sloths go to bars we don’t know about yet where they impress their friends with bar tricks), but three-toed sloths are slightly more advanced than their two-toed cousins. They can turn their necks up to 270 degrees around in either direction because they have up to three extra vertebrae than two-toed sloths.

8. Some thought a dead Panamanian sloth was an alien

A group of teenagers in the Cerro Azul region of Panama City got the scare of their life when they saw an unidentified creature headed their way. They panicked and beat the animal to death with rocks and sticks and ran to get help. When they returned, they were shocked to find the dead, pale being lying on a rock and snapped a couple of photos of its body. They posted it on the internet where it went viral and became “Panama E.T.”, sparking a ton of theories that it might have been some kind of alien or identified creature. A biopsy, however, revealed it to be a three-toed sloth that had already died in the river, causing its hair to fall out and make its skin look almost translucent.

9. They weren’t always seen as cute and cuddly

It’s a good thing that early Spanish settlers who found the sloth aren’t around in Kristen Bell’s time or she’d be crying for a whole other reason. Oviedo y Valdes, a writer who visited Central America in the 14th century and provided one of the earliest descriptions of the sloth, didn’t find the creature worthy of his tears. In fact, he described it as one of the “uglier” and “more useless” creatures in the animal kingdom.

10. Sloth from ‘The Goonies’ played in the NFL

Every child of the 1980s remembers the iconic cry of the loveably deformed henchman with a heart of gold from ‘The Goonies,’ but the story of the man behind the 5-hour makeup job is one of triumph and tragedy. John Matuszak got his start as a defensive lineman for the University of Tampa where he was drafted by the Houston Oilers in the first round in 1973. He eventually moved to the Oakland Raiders and helped take the team to two Super Bowls, but he retired in 1982 and led a hard life of drugs and partying. He turned to acting, racking up an impressive resume of roles in several TV shows and movies including ‘The Goonies.’ He also did a spread in Playgirl, which is something even we wish we didn’t know.

Next: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Superman

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