Maternal sloth

There’s always something new at the zoo to keep volunteers invigorated, and last week it was the sloth baby — only the second born here, on Feb. 3. Thursday was mom’s first day back on exhibit with baby. The sloth normally lives at the “Creatures Beneath the Canopy” end of the Tropics trail with our other Central and South American animals, but the nearby large windows and glass doors make it too cold for sloths in winter — their body temperature changes with their environment, reptile-like, and they’re not muscular enough to warm themselves by shivering. This year, instead of going off exhibit entirely, the sloth took up residence with chinchillas at the end of the old Nocturnal Trail in Tropics. All you can see of the baby in this picture are its two left legs; it sleeps on its mom’s belly, and sloths sleep 15 hours a day even when they’re not new moms, and they’re most active at night. But this is the best look and only decent picture of a sloth I’ve ever gotten, since they’re usually tucked among foliage with their faces hidden.

two-toed sloth

Two-toed sloths are pregnant for about five months. Delivery typically takes less than an hour and, like everything else in a sloth’s life except defecating, happens while mom is hanging upside down in a tree. Two-toed sloths have two toes — or as you can see here, claws ideal for hooking onto trees — on each front foot and three on each hindfoot.  The fascinating facts about them go on and on; many appear on the excellent website for the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. (Three-toed sloths have tails and extra vertebrae, so they’re a whole other story.) We have another pregnant sloth at the zoo, so in time, this baby will not only emerge into full view but should also gain a playmate. I’m not sure sloths actually play, even when they’re little, but time will tell.