Status: Critically endangered
Known as: Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth, Dwarf sloth, monk sloth
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Likely less than 100.
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Description of Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
Pygmy three-toed sloths are an excellent example of insular dwarfism, which occurs when a population is confined to an island and must adapt to the limited resources of space and food.
These sloths look compact and are approximately 40% smaller than the mainland sloths they are descended from. Weight is just 2.5 to 3.5 kilograms, while length ranges from 48 to 53 centimeters.
The sloth’s fur is grey, though the face is tan with chocolate stripes, and the male has an orange patch on the back divided lengthwise by a black stripe.
There is long hair on this sloth’s head, hanging down and giving the appearance of a hood, inspiring the alternative name of “monk sloth”.
A unique species of symbiotic algae grows in the fur of the pygmy three-toed sloth, giving their fur a greenish tint that acts as excellent camouflage when combined with their slow movements.
Pygmy three-toed sloths spend most of their lives in trees, though they must descend to the ground to urinate and defecate. They can only crawl while on the ground, though they are good swimmers. In the trees, they hook themselves securely to branches with the three large claws on each of their feet.
They often hang upside down from branches while in the trees. Their sole food is the leaves of the red mangrove trees where they live.
Breeding & mating
The mating behavior of these sloths is a mystery, but scientists believe it is the same as that of other sloths. Sexual maturity is probably reached at around three years, and young are born after a gestation of six to twelve months. Loud vocalizations enable the male and female to find each other in their leafy habitat.
The female has one offspring, rarely twins, who cling to her underside for the first period of their lives.
The young sloth may remain with its mother for up to a year, during which time its fur acquires the species’ signature symbiotic algae from the colonies growing on her hair.
Separated from the Panamanian coast by 17 kilometers of ocean, the island of Escudo de Veraguas is the only home of the pygmy three-toed sloth.
The sloths live only in red mangroves as a type of terrain found in a narrow band along the seaside, which are estimated to cover just 1.5 square kilometers.
Conservation of Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
Since they are confined to one island surrounded by oceanic waters, every hectare of habitat is vitally important to pygmy three-toed sloths. Unfortunately, vigorous cutting of mangrove trees is occurring on Escudo de Veraguas.
If unchecked, this could lead to the outright extinction of these intriguing, dwarf mammals. Surreptitious hunting by fishermen operating near the island may also be occurring since the sloths are an easy source of meat.
These sloths are theoretically protected, but there is practically no actual enforcement of the ban on hunting them or destroying their habitat.
Money is being gathered to change the local economy to a more sustainable model that will not witness as much cypress logging or sloth poaching, and greater enforcement of protective measures is also possible.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Pygmy three-toed sloth, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.