Two-toed sloth, Costa Rica

Two-toed sloth, Costa Rica

Our very kind cab driver stopped in Orotina, Costa Rica en route to the lodge.  Although we did not share a common language, he had something to show us in a small park.  He pointed insistently to a hairy mass 50 feet up in a tree, saying words neither of us could understand.


As if it was Charades I asked, “Is it a nest?”


Without the use of language, I don’t know what he answered.  Continuing to look at the mass through binoculars, my partner and I thought maybe it was a bee hive.  We looked that up in our Spanish dictionary, but there was no translation.  He kept talking and pointing.  Then I asked a new question, “Is it a sloth?”


“Si!  A sloth!”


In Costa Rica there are two species of sloths:  two-toed and three-toed.  Regardless of the name, both species have three toes.  It is the hands of the sloth that differ in digit number, and they are not so much fingers as they are claws.  We eventually saw both species in our rainforest treks.


Three-toed sloth, Costa Rica

Three-toed sloth, Costa Rica

An arboreal mammal about the size of a small dog, sloths can only be found in the rainforests of Central and South America.  They are “active” 7-10 hours a day, and then they are merely chewing.  They sleep the rest of the time.  The majority of a sloth’s diet is leaves.  This is not a big source of fuel and not easily digested, so they move lethargically.  A sloth is so slow, in fact, that algae grows on its back.  More sloth info here.


Always over 100 feet up and hidden in an extensive tangle of trees, leaves, and vines, these curious cousins of the anteater and armadillo were difficult to locate, and nearly impossible to photograph.  They seldom come down out of the canopy, their best protection from predators.


About once a week, however, the sloth ventures down out of the canopy to use the bathroom.  They climb down the tree trunk, dig a small hole in the ground with their tail, urinate and defecate, bury it, and then make the long journey back up.


The mammalian superorder that sloths come from, Xenarthra, dates back about 60 million years.  And up until 10,000 years ago there were still ground sloths living in North and South America.  It is amazing we still have these two species on our planet.


Before landing in Costa Rica the sloth was the mammal I most wished to see.  I was told it was not very likely.  Fortunately, we saw several sloths in those two weeks, but not without slogging down many muggy rainforest trails, and never without the help of a guide (or cab driver).


The sloths don’t move far, so locals know where to look.  And the good news is you can stand there observing them for hours, which we did.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

La Selva rainforest, Costa Rica

La Selva rainforest, Costa Rica


60 thoughts on “Sloths

    • I just visited your wonderful site, Matthias, hoping to find out where in Panama you saw the sloths. I found many wonderful creatures and posts, but if there was a sloth post I missed it. Would you please tell me where in Panama you saw loads of sloths? I want to go there. 🙂

      • thanks for your visit! 🙂 You are right, posts on Panama or sloths in general are yet lacking… you have to be a little bit patient, please! 😉 I have seen many sloths in the park at Punta Culebra on Isla Naos near Panama City (I think this is a more or less safe place where you will see them)! But they also occur commonly at other places, for example, around the research station at Punta Galeta near Colón… and if you are in the area, you should visit Barro Colorado Island… that’s a great experience anyways and possibly you may spot sloths there too! 🙂 good luck!! 🙂

      • This is excellent! Thanks so much, Matthias, I appreciate your time in laying out the details. I am working on vacation plans for next yr and Panama is high on the list of possibilities. 😀 😀

  1. It’s interesting to read about “They climb down the tree trunk, dig a small hole … and then make the long journey back up.” Thank you for sharing your adventure, Jet. 🙂

  2. We saw a few of them in Costa Rica too, but I was there for four months, passing on the same road daily. One time it was on the ground, and when we came back from our work in the late afternoon, he barely was above the ground on the tree. They really are slow and rather odd looking too.

    • Passing on the same road daily for 4 mos. (how wonderful) is exactly how we get to see them. Great that you actually saw him/her on the ground! Thank you Donna. 😀

  3. Amazing! Once more I am grateful for you and Athena – for your willingness to pray the price with perseverance and patience (and passion!) so that others can share in these unique experiences.

    • It is such a pleasure to share it with you, Nan, and the other blog visitors you speak of. There are so many wonderful wild creatures on this planet — by sharing experiences with others is one way to help save the creatures. My wishes to you for a blessed day. 😀

  4. There are sloths in Costa Rica? To think we may have been rafting under their sleeping bodies the entire time, lol. What a wonderful treat for you to actually see a SLOTH and more then once, FABULOUS! 🙂

    • You probably WERE rafting under their sleeping bodies, Joanne. lol. They are so very difficult to see, even when someone is showing you! Thanks so much for your fun comment today. 😀

    • I would imagine the zoo is a lot more comfortable than the rainforest, so there is that compensation. I am glad you’ve seen them and sure appreciate your visit today. 😀

  5. Thanks for the interesting and informative description of sloths. What fascinating creatures! I wonder why they evolved to be sooooo slow—that’s quite the journey to visit the loo! And how nice it was for your cab driver to make the effort to point out a sloth to you in spite of the language barrier. We had a similar experience with a wonderful cab driver in Guadalajara, Mexico, who took us to all the “secret” places no regular tourist would see. Great post! :))

    • We felt very lucky to have that experience with the cab driver. He saw all our birding and camera equipment that we loaded into his car, and he just decided to give us a scenic tour. Glad you had a similar unique experience in Mexico Jeannie. Thank you so much my sunny friend. 😀

  6. Sloths! Who could ever dislike these interesting animals, especially when it seems (from a human’s perspective) they always have a smile on their faces 😀 My husband is a big fan of sloths, and has always said they are unfairly given a poor reputation. Thanks for taking us along the ride!

  7. I always wonder how they got to be like that and survive for ages! You’d think that they would perish in a jungle teeming with wild predators! Thanks Jet for the interesting post. 🙂

    • Although I am no evolutionary expert on sloths, perhaps that they can hang upside down in the highest treetops has helped with their perpetuation. I read that the two-toed and three-toed sloths are actually not in the same genera and represent a converged evolution. It’s pretty interesting; and you bring up an interesting point, HJ. Very glad you enjoyed the post my friend. 🙂

  8. How exciting! I’ll just ditto all the other folks who complimented both you and the sloth! (I’m being very slothful in my comment tonight.)

    • Your comment has me chuckling, Gunta; though with all I have seen you do and all the places you go, I can’t even jokingly call you a sloth. lol. Many thanks for your delightful visit. 🙂

  9. These mammals are so cool! I love them. We saw one of these when we went into the Amazon from Manaus years ago (same backpacking trip as when I had the episode in Costa Rica…). They are definitely slow. I had no idea they would actually come down to do their business. Slow as sloth – do algae seriously grow on its back? Wicked!

    • Isn’t that great that they’re so slow algae grows on them? Rainforests are so wet, as I am sure you know well, and sloths are so slow. I’m very glad you got to see one in the wild, Inger. Thanks so much for your input today. 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s