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Contrary to what you may think, these natives to Central and South America are neither slow nor dumb.
Sloths have a reputation.
They are known for being slow, which some people extrapolate to mean they are not so bright.
But the fact of the matter is that while they often move slowly, they are not restricted to a snail's pace.
And please, they are far from dumb.
The deal with their pace is that they have adapted to conserve energy, which they have precious little of, and to avoid predators.
In the wild in Central and South America, where they're from, sloths live in trees and eat only plants. Therefore they don't consume a lot of energy-enhancing protein and they need to be wise about when and how they expend their limited resources.
For more on sloths: former Senior Correspondent Alex Leff and current Americas editor breaks it down for us.
They can move at a pace of about 15 feet per minute, it just has to be worth it.
A baby Hoffmann's two-toed sloth at the Sloth Sanctuary in Penshurt, Costa Rica, Aug. 31, 2012. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/GettyImages)
A brown-throated sloth at the Sloth Sanctuary in Penshurt, Costa Rica, Aug. 31, 2012. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/GettyImages)
The fact that sloths have low energy and for the most part move slowly leaves them vulnerable to prey, particularly eagles, which can swoop down and pluck a sleepy sloth right off a branch.
As Donald E. Moore, associate director of animal care at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, told BoingBoing:
"There's no real defense against something that's willing to dive bomb a tree, flip upside down and grab you off a vine. You're really better off if they just don't see you."
The sloths agree — that's why they remain still most of the time.
They are active for only about two hours a day, according to New Scientist, and they also house a slew of algae and moths in their fur. The combination of these factors allows sloths to appear as vegetation to any eagles that may be soaring about.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon makes like a sloth at the zoobotanical park of Emilio Goeldi museum in Belem, Brazil. (Mauricio Lima/AFP/GettyImages)
Eight-month-old sloth Camillo and his mother Charlotte on May 17, 2011, at the zoo in Halle, eastern Germany. (Waltraud Grubitzsch/AFP/GettyImages)
Baby Camillo yawns at the zoo in Halle. (Waltraud Grubitzsch/AFP/GettyImages)
A baby two-toed sloth yawns at the Aiunau Foundation in Caldas, Colombia, Sept. 15, 2012. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/GettyImages)
A sloth's slow metabolism also serves a helpful purpose in keeping them safe. Sloths are significantly more vulnerable to prey when they need to go to the bathroom, since they have to climb down from the trees to do so on the forest floor.
But their slow metabolism sees to it that they only need to do so about once a week, which helps keep these vulnerable times to a minimum.
A veterinarian holds a 2-month-old sloth named Bimba in the LoroParque Zoo on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife. (Desiree Martin/AFP/GettyImages)
A volunteer plays with a brown-throated sloth at the Sloth Sanctuary in Penshurt, Costa Rica, Aug. 31, 2012. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/GettyImages)
A 6-week-old sloth plays with its mother, Banya, at the Budapest Zoo and Botanic Garden in the Hungarian captial, Feb. 8, 2013. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/GettyImages)
A worker at the Sloth Sanctuary in Penshurt, Costa Rica, holds baby sloths on Aug. 30, 2012. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/GettyImages)
A two-toed sloth at the London Zoo. (Peter Macdiarmid/AFP/GettyImages)
A three-toed sloth eats at the Aiunau Foundation in Caldas, Colombia, Sept. 15, 2012. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/GettyImages)
A 6-week-old sloth sleeps at the Budapest Zoo and Botanic Garden in the Hungarian captial, Feb. 8, 2013. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/GettyImages)
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