One of my favorite things about sloths is learning about how unique they are. Sloths are fascinating creatures that are so different from most of the animals we learn about growing up and taking science class. So, I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I enjoy writing them.
Now, it’s not always easy to do this research because of how little is known about sloths and about how, well frankly, gross they can be. Recently I shared a general knowledge article with multiple strange tidbits about sloths:
One of the facts from that article which really stood out was this one:
“Sloths only poop once a week.”
A lot of people found this very strange and so I am going to follow up on it. While it’s usually not fun to spend so much time thinking about and writing about poop, in the case of sloths and the pursuit of sloth knowledge, it’s actually fascinating. All in the name of science!
So, really, how often do sloths poop?
You can’t believe everything you read about sloths. Their behavior is so unusual that it’s hard for researchers to make the correct observations and verify who/when/why/what sloths do. Keep in mind that sloths are biologically and evolutionary very different from other animals, so scientists don’t have a lot to compare sloths too, or another animal’s behavior to use to help formulate a hypothesis about sloths.
Another challenge is just how unobservable sloths tend to be. Sloths are incredibly shy and do their best to stay away from humans, not knowing of course how to distinguish between the researchers who want to help them and the poachers that want to hurt them. Thus, scientists often have to go deep into the rainforest to find sloths to observe. Then, even when they find sloths, oftentimes the dark night is the best time to see the sloths actually doing things, and even then they don’t do much.
A scientist could spend hours, even days, watching a sloth without seeing it do much of anything. However, through the best estimates that can be generated from the information that has been gathered, sloths poop once every 5 to 10 days, or roughly once a week.
How much do sloths poop?
When scientists are observing sloths, one of the few things they tend to actually do with any frequency is eat. We’ll talk more about their diet later, for now it is worth noting that eating relatively much and pooping so infrequently mean one thing: when they do their business sloths poop a lot!
When a sloth makes it down to the ground to go number 2, he or she is going to climb back up the tree 20% lighter. Yes, a sloth poops out about one-fifth of its body weight each time it evacuates its bowls. An average sloth weighs 15 pounds. So, it leaves a 💩 of about 3 pounds, which in and of itself is a bigger load than you probably ever would make. Now think about the fact that humans weigh about ten times as much as sloths, 150 pounds or so. If we pooped like sloths we would need toilets that could handle a load of 30 pounds!
How does this compare with other animals?
We can see a huge difference between animals like geese, which are almost always pooping, to sloths, who rarely do it.
Why do they only go once a week?
There are two basic reasons:
A sloth’s diet consists almost entirely of leaves, particularly the leaves of Cecropia trees. Usually a vegetarian diet like this would lead to frequent clean-outs of the bowels, but Cecropia leaves are not your average veg. Those leaves are highly toxic, extremely tough, and not very nutritious. This means that in order to get the nourishment needed, the sloth has to eat a lot of leaves and has to have a very involved digestive system, this includes a a multi-chambered stomach (yours just has one chamber) and special bacteria living inside the sloth to help breakdown the leaves. Even with that unique digestive system, it takes a sloth around an entire month to process its food (humans do this in about 7 hours). This means that food has to sit in the sloth’s belly for a long time before it’s ready to come out the other end.
As far as survival goes, scientists can oftentimes find deceased sloths more easily than they find the living sloths. Guess where they find most of those poor dead sloths: on the ground. Know what they were doing right before a predator got them? Pooping?
This is why I suggest that instead of saying sitting duck we should say “pooping sloth” because no animal is as vulnerable as a sloth is when it is making one of it’s very few trips on the forest floor, where it will be trying to excrete 20% of its body weight. According to what reserachings can observe, about half of all sloth deaths occur when sloths are pooping and get caught by a jaguar or other predator.
Why do sloths poop on the ground?
Remember that sloths spend almost their entire lives in trees. That is where they eat and where they sleep. Also keep in mind how much a sloth poops. It wouldn't be pleasant or healthy for you to leave a 30-pound pile of dung in your dinning room or bedroom, right? So, sloths logically do their dirty business in the place they spend the least amount of time: the ground.
Beyond that, scientist theorize that the smell of dung piles at the base of trees might be how sloths find mates in the rainforest. Imagine getting a whiff of poop and thinking "I might get lucky tonight!"
Another theory is that the sloths are actively promoting the symbiotic relationship they have with moths by providing them a comfortable nest.
More sloth poop facts
Certain moth species live in the fur of sloths. They fly down to the floor to find some sloth poop where they lay their eggs. Those eggs hatch and the moth larvae feed off of the feces in which they were born.
Once the moths can fly, they take to the air to find a new home in a sloth’s fur. The poop facts are not done yet though. The moths poop in the sloth’s fur and this serves as fertilizer for the algae that grow on a sloth’s fur and give that fur the green color we see. We have an article about that amazing phenomena:
Sloth Pooping Videos