If you’ve never seen a sloth moving around in the water, it may surprise you to learn that the sluggish tree-dwelling creatures can swim at all. And if you have seen a sloth in the water, you may have been amazed by what you saw. So, just how fast can a sloth swim? How are they able to swim when they appear more suited for their life in the trees? Why do they move so slow most of the time? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions.
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Are Sloths Good Swimmers?
Sloths are known for moving slowly through the trees and spending up to 20 hours a day sleeping; so it surprises many people to learn that they are able to swim.
But, just how good are they in the water?
Surprisingly, sloths are excellent swimmers; in fact, they can move three times faster in the water than they can on land.
Sloths have to be able to move fast in the water to keep from drowning or succumbing to hypothermia from spending too much time submerged. But, if they can’t move fast on land, how are they able to move so fast in the water?
Sloths have a natural buoyancy; they float easily. Because of this buoyancy, it is easier for them to move their bodies in water than it is on land, or even in the trees where they spend most of their time.
Sloths swim by moving their long front limbs in a doggy-paddle type of motion. Their much shorter back legs paddle in a more side-to-side pattern, as you can see in the video below:
Now, considering sloths live in trees, you may be wondering why they would drop down into the water for a swim. There are a few reasons why sloths might enter the water:
- They’re moving from one place to another: Because it’s easier for them to move around in the water, they may decide to swim when they want to move to a new location or explore new territories.
- They’re looking for a mate: Swimming gives sloths a good view of their surroundings; they are able to see other sloths in the water or hanging out in trees. When a male sloth is looking for a mate, he may go for a swim in order to meet more females than he would likely encounter if he stayed in the trees.
- They’re escaping from predators: Sloths have to leave the trees and go to the ground to relieve themselves, but being on the ground makes them extremely vulnerable to predatory animals looking for an easy meal. If there is a body of water nearby, the sloth may slip into the water to escape since they can swim much faster than they can walk.
How Fast Can a Sloth Swim?
So, we’ve established the fact that sloths are excellent swimmers, and that they can move faster in the water than they can when they’re on land.
But how fast are they, exactly? How fast can they swim?
A sloth can swim at top speeds of about 44 feet per minute. This works out to half a mile per hour.
On paper, that may not seem very fast, but consider this: sloths only move an average of 40 yards per day when they are on land and in trees. In the water, they could cover that distance in just under 3 minutes.
Of course, sloths aren’t always swimming that fast when they’re in the water. Sometimes, they enter the water simply to relax and cool down.
Sloths can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes, so they could conceivably stay in the water for a long time without swimming at all, as long as the water isn’t too cold for them.
Why Are Sloths So Slow?
Obviously, sloths can move a lot more quickly when they’re in the water, but even their top swimming speeds aren’t very fast.
Have you ever wondered what causes a sloth to move so slowly in the first place?
It’s all in their metabolism.
Sloths have one of the slowest metabolisms of any living creature. Most of their energy goes to digesting their food, and they only have to relieve themselves about once a week.
Because their body is so busy breaking down the tough leaves that make up most of their diet, they need a lot of rest; this is why they spend 15 to 20 hours each day sleeping. Even when they are awake, it requires a lot of energy for them to move; their answer to this dilemma is to move slowly and sparingly.
Swimming requires less energy than climbing or walking because their buoyant nature makes it easier to move in the water. This is the primary reason they are surprisingly good swimmers.
Sloths can swim up to half a mile per hour, or about 44 feet per minute. This is much faster than they move on land and in trees.
Sloths are good at swimming because it requires less energy to get around in the water. Because they have such slow metabolisms, they have to conserve what energy they have, so they spend much of their time sleeping, hanging from branches, or cooling off in the water.