Why Are Sloths So Slow (Can They Ever Move Fast)?

If you’ve ever seen a sloth just hanging out in a tree, living a relaxed and easygoing life, you may have wondered if sloths are even capable of speed. Why are sloths so slow? Can they ever move fast? What if they were to be chased by a predator? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more. 

Can a Sloth Ever Move Fast?

can a sloth ever move fast

“Fast” is a relative term when speaking of sloths. There are times, when they are threatened, when they can move faster than they would normally move; but fast for a sloth is still quite slow by most standards.

Simply put, sloths are made for moving slowly. Because of environmental and physiological reasons, they are unable to run, swim, or even climb very quickly. 

There are several reasons for why sloths are so slow:

  • They have a low muscle mass: For an animal as large as a sloth, they don’t have much in the way of muscles. Most of their muscles are in their arms, and even these are relatively weak; they are made more for hanging than for helping the sloth move quickly.
  • They have a slow metabolism: A big reason for sloths’ slow, sleepy behavior is that their metabolism is extremely slow for an animal of their size. Because of this slow metabolism, sloths simply don’t have a lot of energy.
  • They have a poor diet: Sloths mostly eat leaves and twigs from the trees they live in. While some sloths supplement this limited diet with other plant foods, bird eggs, and insects, most rely on leaves to sustain them, and these leaves take a long time to digest and don’t provide a lot of nutrition.

For a sloth to move faster than normal would require a great amount of energy, which they would spend a long time replacing with sleep and food. Plus, their body design makes it even harder for them to move fast, especially when they find themselves on the ground.

Check out this video to find out more about why sloths are so slow.

How Fast Can a Sloth Move when in Danger?

According to One Kind Planet, a sloth’s top speed is only about 0.15 miles per hour, though according to Hypertextbook’s list of academic writings on the subject, the Encyclopedia of Mammals published in 1997 states that a sloth’s “top speed is a dismal 1.2 mph.”

Either way, that top speed is really slow. And when you consider that sloths can only move that fast even when attempting to escape danger, you can see why they aren’t known for speed.

Sloths are unlikely to outrun any predator; their primary defense is their ability to sit still and blend in with their surroundings. In fact, sloths can sit so still for so long that they have the ability to grow algae on their fur; this helps them to blend in even better.

Is a Sloth Slower than a Snail?

“Slower than a snail” is just a saying, but it seems like one that might accurately apply to sloths. But are sloths really that slow?

Snails can move about 0.03 miles per hour, so a side-by-side comparison of sloths and snails would show that sloths move slightly faster than snails. However, this side-by-side comparison doesn’t account for difference in size, since sloths are much larger than snails. 

Sloths can move a greater distance than snails with much less effort simply because they’re bigger, so to say that sloths move faster than snails may not be a fair comparison. If they were closer to the same size, it would be easier to compare which one is actually faster and which one is slower.

Are Sloths Smart or Dumb?

are sloths smart or dumb

Sloths are smarter than they seem, despite that their brains are quite small relative to their body size. The brain is highly tuned into the skills the sloth needs for survival, as demonstrated by the fact that the sloth has been around for over 10,000 years.

For example, sloths are nearly blind, so to be able to move around in the trees, they need to be able to navigate by sense of taste, smell, and memory of their environment. This is called spatial memory, and a sloth’s spatial memory is one of the best among the animal world.

Sloths are also skilled climbers, which is no small accomplishment considering that they can’t see well. Their brains control their forelimb movement in such a way that they are able to safely climb all kinds of trees and can find their way even without being able to see much.


Sloths are slow because they have low muscle mass, poor metabolisms, and because their diet doesn’t provide much nutrition. They are made for having a slow, laid-back lifestyle hanging in trees and sleeping a lot, and they are much better at camouflaging and sitting still to avoid being seen by predators than they are at outrunning them. 

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