You are probably aware that sloths are known for moving slowly. But how is such a slow animal supposed to protect itself or its young from predators? Do these slow, tree-dwelling mammals even have any predators? And if so, how does a sloth defend itself on the ground, in the water, and in the trees? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll discuss the various predators of sloths, their fighting techniques, and other methods they use to protect themselves.
What You'll Learn Today
Do Sloths Have Predators?
Sloths are large, sleepy-looking creatures similar in appearance to monkeys. They look completely docile and non-threatening, so you may think it’s safe to assume they have a handful of natural predators; and you would be right.
Sloths spend much of their time in trees attempting to avoid predators; but they are still preyed on by several different predators, including:
Jaguars are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain and have no natural predators. They are found throughout the Americas, in many of the same regions as sloths.
Jaguars are quiet, cautious hunters, stalking their prey before sneaking up on it and springing the attack. They hunt sloths that come down out of the trees, either to relieve themselves on the ground or to go for a swim.
Harpy eagles are the largest eagle in the world, and they are native to South America, where most sloths can be found. What’s more, they live and hunt in the rainforest canopy, where sloths typically stay to protect themselves from other predators.
Harpy eagles tend to prey on slightly smaller animals, such as monkeys, but they are perfectly capable of taking on sloths as well. They use movement to hunt for their prey, so the sloth’s best defense against a harpy eagle is to sit perfectly still until the eagle moves on.
Crested eagles are found throughout South America, and though they are not quite as large as harpy eagles, they are still impressive predators that have been known to hunt sloths.
Crested eagles also live in rainforest canopies, so they are often in the same areas as sloths. Like harpy eagles, they use movement to find and attack their prey.
Ocelots aren’t as widespread as jaguars, and they tend to do most of their hunting near or after dusk, when sloths are usually asleep. But if they happen to find a sloth coming down from the trees late in the day, they can easily pounce without warning and take the sloth by surprise.
Anacondas are water snakes that live in the rivers of South American rainforests, where sloths sometimes go for a swim. If an anaconda comes across a sloth in the water, it will wrap itself around the sloth, killing it by suffocation.
Can a Sloth Fight?
Sloths are typically not aggressive; they try to avoid predators so they don’t have to fight them.
Sloths will occasionally fight among themselves, but they live solitary lives and tend to avoid others of their kind except when mating. They are most likely to fight when they encroach on each other’s territory or are trying to win the same mate.
A sloth’s fighting technique typically involves wrapping its opponent in a sort of “bear hug” and slapping the opponent with its forelimbs. It may also use its claws to scratch at the opponent’s face and limbs.
A sloth battle is a very “slow-motion” sort of a fight, as shown in the following video.
How Do Sloths Protect Themselves from Predators?
As noted above, sloths will try to avoid fighting as much as possible, especially on the ground. They have a much better chance of protecting themselves in the trees, which is where they stay most of the time.
Most predator encounters happen when sloths must travel to the forest floor to relieve themselves. Fortunately, they only have to do this about once a week, according to National Geographic Kids; they spend the rest of their time in the trees and occasionally going for a swim.
When in the trees, their slow movement helps protect them from predators. Most of their predators, such as the harpy and crested eagles, hunt by watching for movement; if an animal isn’t moving, or isn’t moving fast, the predator won’t be able to see it well enough to attack.
Sloths also protect against attacks by camouflaging themselves to their surroundings. Their fur is brown and blends in well with tree bark, and sometimes algae grows on their fur, giving it a greenish tint that helps them blend in even better.
As much as possible, sloths try to avoid fighting; but if their young are threatened, or if they find themselves trapped, they will do what they have to to fight back.
Which leads to our next question:
How Do Sloths Fight Off Predators?
As you might imagine, sloths have few natural defenses if they are attacked; their most useful weapons are their claws.
If they are forced into a fight, sloths will scratch at their predators’ faces and bodies. Their long claws are capable of creating deep lacerations in their enemies if they are able to get in a good blow or two.
Sloths generally have a low muscle mass, which contributes to their slow movements; that said, their strongest muscles are in their arms. Though they cannot move very fast, their strong arms are able to deliver fierce blows if they are able to fight back before being killed.
Sloths that find themselves in a physical battle are rarely able to fend off the attacker, but thanks to their sharp claws and strong arms, they won’t go down without a fight.
A sloth’s first line of defense is to avoid fighting in the first place. Though they sometimes fight with other sloths, they try to avoid predators by spending most of their time in trees, sitting still, and camouflaging to their surroundings.