Last week I traveled to Costa Rica with my wife and yes, I experienced a diverse sampling of all Central America has to offer: volcanoes, rain forests, violent stomach illness, breathtaking flora and some of the more remarkable fauna on Earth. And yes, we got to meet the two-toed sloth in its natural habitat.
Naturally, one generally has to look up into the branches to see a sloth. That’s where they live, but as the following video from David Attenborough’s “Life of Mammals” points out, that’s not where they poop. They come down once a week to do their business and bury it — a dangerous move in the jungle.
So why does a sloth take the long, slow and dangerous trek down from the branches to relive itself? It’s one of the great pooping mysteries of the animal kingdom, but we do have a few strong theories on the matter. There’s always the old “evolutionary baggage” argument which says it’s just something left over from when sloths lived on the ground (in super-giant awesome mode) but these theories fascinate me the most:
Stealth Pooping: If you’ve ever defecated from the branches of a tree, you know this can cause quite a stir down bellow. The sight and sound of falling herbivore poop sends the unmistakable signal that “something edible is up there right now.” So sloths may climb down for their weekly toilet to avoid drawing such attention to themselves.
Pooping it Forward: Sloths spend days or even years living in and eating in the same tree, so another theory involves a kind of “giving back” on the part of the mossy ones. By making poop deliveries to the root system, they’re helping to nourish the trees they depend on. Some scientists think this act of good will also helps out the sloth’s parasites.
Visit my FecesBook Page: As humans, we often forget (or choose to forget) that you can learn a lot about somebody from his or her feces. Some theories involve the sloth carrying out its weekly poop mission to mark territory or even as a calling card for potential mates. How’s that for a valentine?
About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks.com, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.