How Long Can A Sloth Hold Its Breath?

You may have stumbled across this article and, intrigued by the title, thought to yourself, I didn’t know sloths could hold their breath at all! But as you’ll find in reading this article, sloths are actually experts when it comes to the art of breath-holding. So, just how long can a sloth hold its breath? And why do they bother? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more!  

How Long Can Sloths Hold Their Breath Underwater?

How Long Can Sloths Hold Their Breath Underwater

You may not think of sloths as being skilled in the water, but surprisingly, this tree-dwelling mammal can hold its breath for longer than some water mammals.

According to experts, sloths can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes. If you think that seems impressive for a mammal that lives in trees, you would be right; but if you think about it, being able to hold their breath for so long is a good skill to have both in and out of the water. 

Sloths frequently avoid predators by holding perfectly still so that the predators don’t see them. Add in their impressive breath-holding skills, and you find that they are even better equipped to avoid predators–not only will the predators not be able to see them, but they won’t be able to hear them breathing!

In addition, sloths are actually very good swimmers, and they frequently need to hold their breath when going for a swim. 

Sloths have many predators, and any time they come down from the trees, they are at a greater risk of being hunted. They may need to stay underwater for extended periods to avoid being seen by predators–and the longer they can hold their breath, the longer they can stay underwater and avoid drawing unwanted attention.

So, you may be wondering, how are sloths able to hold their breath for so long? The answer may surprise you.

When a sloth needs to hold its breath, it is actually able to slow its heart rate down by about a third. This way, the sloth uses less energy and, thus, does not need to breathe as frequently.

Impressive, right? But did you know that a sloth’s breathing skills aren’t limited to holding its breath underwater?

Sloths are also able to breathe while hanging upside down for hours because their lungs are “taped” to their ribcage using specialized ligaments. These ligaments keep their lungs in place so they don’t become squashed; that way, the sloth doesn’t have to work any harder to breathe and they can save precious energy, allowing them to maintain the same position for hours on end.

Can Sloths Hold Their Breath Longer than Dolphins?

You would think that dolphins, being water mammals, would be able to hold their breath longer than sloths. But surprisingly, this is not the case.

Dolphins actually need to breathe quite frequently, sometimes as much as 4 to 5 times per minute. They can, of course, hold their breath for longer periods as needed, and the length of time they can hold their breath varies from species to species.

Generally though, even the most deep-diving dolphins can’t hold their breath for more than 15 to 20 minutes. This is less than half the length of time that sloths can hold their breath.

Dolphins have higher metabolisms than sloths do, and they expend more energy with their activities. For this reason, they require a greater oxygen intake than the slow-moving, energy-saving sloths.

Are Sloths Good Swimmers?

As noted above, sloths are excellent swimmers. They can swim three times as fast as they can walk, so they do much better getting around in the water than they do on land.

Their ability to hold their breath underwater gives them a major advantage when swimming, as they can focus on getting where they need to go without having to surface frequently to take breaths.

Sloths are not completely invincible in the water though; they have to look out for anacondas, which often hunt them when they go for a swim. The large water snakes will wrap themselves around the sloths and suffocate them, and sloths are rarely able to escape once caught.

That said, sloths still enjoy a good swim from time to time, and their breath-holding abilities can help them escape the notice of many other predators.

Check out this video to see how sloths swim, and notice how much more quickly they move when in the water:


Sloths have an incredible ability to hold their breath for up to 40 minutes at a time. This ability is part of what makes them excellent swimmers, but it can also help them when they’re not in the water anytime they need to avoid drawing the attention of predators. Fore more interesting articles about sloths, here is a comparison of sloth vs koala.

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