AskDefine | Define sloth

Dictionary Definition



1 a disinclination to work or exert yourself [syn: slothfulness]
2 any of several slow-moving arboreal mammals of South America and Central America; they hang from branches back downward and feed on leaves and fruits [syn: tree sloth]
3 apathy and inactivity in the practice of virtue (personified as one of the deadly sins) [syn: laziness, acedia]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (UK) /sləʊθ/, /sl@UT/
  • (US) /sloʊθ/, /sloUT/
    Rhymes: -əʊθ


  1. Laziness; slow in the mindset. One of the seven deadly sins (see Wikipedia article on the seven deadly sins for more details).
  2. A herbivorous, arboreal South American mammal of the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae, noted for its slowness and inactivity.



Extensive Definition

The living sloths comprise 6 species of medium-sized mammals that live in Central and South America belonging to the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae, part of the order Pilosa. Most scientists call the sloth suborder Folivora, while some call it Phyllophaga. Both names mean "leaf-eaters"; the first is derived from Latin, the second from ancient Greek.
This article mainly deals with the living tree-dwelling sloths. Until geologically recent times, large ground sloths such as Megatherium lived in South America and parts of North America, but along with many other animals they disappeared immediately after the arrival of humans on the continent. Much evidence suggests that human hunting contributed to the extinction of the American megafauna, like that of far northern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Madagascar. Simultaneous climate change that came with the end of the last Ice age may have also played a role in some cases. However, the fact that ground sloths survived on the Antilles long after they had died out on the mainland points towards human activities as the agency of extinction.


The living sloths are omnivores. They may eat insects, small lizards, and carrion, but their diet consists mostly of buds, tender shoots, and leaves, mainly of Cecropia trees. They have made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrition and do not digest easily: sloths have very large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth's body-weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take a month or more to complete.
Even so, leaves provide little energy, and sloths deal with this by a range of economy measures: they have very low metabolic rates (less than half of that expected for a creature of their size), and maintain low body temperatures when active (30 to 34 degrees Celsius or 86 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit), and still lower temperatures when resting.
Although unable to survive outside the tropical rainforests of South and Central America, within that environment sloths are outstandingly successful creatures: they can account for as much as half the total energy consumption and two-thirds of the total terrestrial mammalian biomass in some areas. Of the six living species, only one, the Maned Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus torquatus), has a classification of "endangered" at present. The ongoing destruction of South America's forests, however, may soon prove a threat to other sloth species.


Sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly: they have about half as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator (4.5 m / 15 feet per minute), but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort. While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs. They sometimes remain hanging from branches after death. On the ground their maximum speed is 1.5 m (5 feet) per minute. They mostly move at 15-30 cm (0.5-1 feet) per minute.
It had been thought that sloths were among the most somnolent animals, sleeping from 15 to 18 hours each day. Recently, however, Dr. Neil Rattenborg and his colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Starnberg, Germany, published a study testing sloth sleep-patterns in the wild; this is the first study of its kind. The study indicated that sloths sleep just under 10 hours a day. They are particularly partial to nesting in the crowns of palm trees where they can camouflage as coconuts. They go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week. They go to the same spot each time and are vulnerable while doing so. The reason for this risky behaviour is unknown.
Infant sloths normally cling to their mother's fur, but occasionally fall off. Sloths are very sturdily built and rarely die from a fall. In some cases they die from a fall indirectly because the mothers prove unwilling to leave the safety of the trees to retrieve the young. Females normally bear one baby every year, but sometimes sloths' low level of movement actually keeps females from finding males for longer than one year.


The living sloths belong to one of two families, known as the Megalonychidae ("two-toed" sloths) and the Bradypodidae (three-toed sloths). All living sloths have in fact three toes; the "two-toed" sloths, however, have only two fingers. Two-toed sloths are generally faster moving than three-toed sloths. Both types tend to occupy the same forests: in most areas, one species of three-toed sloth and one species of the larger two-toed type will jointly predominate.
However, their adaptations belie the actual relationships of the living sloth genera, which are more distant from each other than their outward similarity suggests. The two-toed sloths of today are far more closely related to one particular group of ground sloths than to the living three-toed sloths. Whether these ground-dwelling Megalonychidae were descended from tree-climbing ancestors or whether the two-toed sloths are really miniature ground sloths converted (or reverted) to arboreal life cannot presently be determined to satisfaction. The latter possibility seems slightly more likely, given the fact that the small ground sloths Acratocnus and Synocnus which were also able to climb are among the closer relatives of the two-toed sloths, and that these together were related to the huge ground sloths Megalonyx and Megalocnus.
The evolutionary history of the three-toed sloths is not at all well-known. No particularly close relatives, ground-dwelling or not, have yet been identified.
It remains to be said that the ground sloths do not constitute a monophyletic group. Rather, they make up a number of lineages, and as far as is known until the Holocene most sloths were in fact ground-dwellers. The famous Megatherium for example belonged to a lineage of ground sloths that was not very close to the living sloths and their ground-living relatives like the small Synocnus or the massive Megalonyx. Meanwhile, Mylodon, among the last ground sloths to disappear, was only most distantly related to either of these.


sloth in Arabic: كسلان
sloth in Catalan: peressós
sloth in Danish: Dovendyr
sloth in German: Faultiere
sloth in Spanish: Perezoso
sloth in French: Paresseux
sloth in Korean: 나무늘보
sloth in Croatian: Ljenjivci
sloth in Ido: Bradipo
sloth in Italian: Bradipo
sloth in Hebrew: עצלנאים
sloth in Georgian: ზარმაცასებრნი
sloth in Lithuanian: Tingininiai
sloth in Hungarian: Lajhár
sloth in Dutch: Luiaarden
sloth in Japanese: ナマケモノ
sloth in Norwegian: Dovendyr
sloth in Polish: Leniwce
sloth in Portuguese: Bicho-preguiça
sloth in Russian: Ленивцы
sloth in Finnish: Laiskiaiset
sloth in Swedish: Sengångare
sloth in Tamil: அசையாக்கரடி
sloth in Turkish: Tembel hayvan
sloth in Chinese: 树懒亚目

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Chiroptera, Lagomorpha, Primates, Rodentia, accidia, acedia, aloofness, anger, apathy, army, ataraxia, ataraxy, avarice, avaritia, benumbedness, blah, blahs, boredom, bunch, carelessness, casualness, cautiousness, cave of Trophonius, cave of despair, circumspection, colony, comatoseness, creeping, deadly sin, deliberateness, deliberation, despair, desperateness, desperation, despondency, detachment, dilatoriness, disconsolateness, disinterest, dispassion, disregard, disregardfulness, do-nothingness, drawl, drift, drive, drove, drowsiness, dullness, easygoingness, enervation, ennui, envy, ergophobia, faineancy, faineantise, fatigue, flock, foot-dragging, forlornness, gam, gang, gluttony, greed, gula, heartlessness, heaviness, hebetude, heedlessness, herd, hoboism, hopelessness, host, idleness, idling, inanimation, inappetence, inattention, inattentiveness, incuriosity, indifference, indiscrimination, indolence, inertia, inertness, inexcitability, inexertion, insouciance, invidia, ira, jadedness, just being, kennel, lack of affect, lack of appetite, lackadaisicalness, laggardness, languidness, languishment, languor, languorousness, lassitude, laze, laziness, lazing, leisureliness, lenitude, lentitude, lentor, lethargicalness, lethargy, lifelessness, listlessness, litter, loafing, lotus-eating, lust, luxuria, mere existence, mere tropism, mindlessness, negligence, no exit, no way, no way out, nonchalance, numbness, oscitancy, pack, passiveness, passivity, phlegm, phlegmaticalness, phlegmaticness, plucklessness, pococurantism, pod, pokiness, pride, recklessness, regardlessness, reluctance, remissness, resignation, resignedness, satedness, school, shiftlessness, shoal, skulk, slackness, sleepiness, slothfulness, slouch, slowness, sluggardy, sluggishness, somnolence, sopor, soporifousness, spiritlessness, spring fever, spunklessness, stagnation, stupefaction, stupor, superbia, supineness, tentativeness, torpidity, torpidness, torpitude, torpor, trip, troop, unanxiousness, unconcern, unmindfulness, unsolicitousness, vagrancy, vegetation, weariness, withdrawnness, world-weariness, wrath
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