Sloths are not known for their speed or agility. They eat leaves, buds, and shoots, none of which are particularly nutritious or energy-rich, and as a result, they have a very low metabolic rate. To add to that, they only have about a quarter of the muscle tissue of animals of similar weight.
This makes them very slow, and even when running from a predator, the fastest sloths cannot exceed 13 feet (4 meters) per minute.
But with such a lethargic lifestyle in the trees and on the ground, can sloths swim? Can they venture anywhere near water? Yes, they absolutely can, and they are much faster in the water than they are in the trees or on the ground.
This might seem like a useless adaptation, since sloths aren’t adapted to an aquatic lifestyle and don’t eat anything in the water.
However, living in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, sloths NEED to be adept swimmers. Water levels frequently rise and flooding can occur, which means swimming is a basic survival skill.
Still, it’s odd that sloths are more skilled swimmers than they are climbers. Perhaps, this is due to the decreased gravity in water, which allows the sloths to float at the surface, rather than drag themselves across the forest floor.
In the video below, watch a critically endangered pygmy three-toed sloth swimming through the mangroves on Panama’s Isla Escudo de Veraguas.
Watch the video below to see more swimming sloth action, brought to you by the BBC: