If there’s one thing sloths are known for, it’s being slow.
They’re notorious for not moving much at all and moving incredibly slow when they do.
The World Wildlife Fund even explains that they do everything slow, from climbing trees to digesting food.
As it turns out, their slowness allows for sloths to carry entire mini-ecosystems around wherever they go! The secret is all in their hair.
WWF says, “The sloth’s hair is a living, breathing home to many different organisms, from microbes, insects to fungi and algae…Sloths also have a special, symbiotic relationship with green algae for the purpose of supplementing their diet. In return, the green algae benefits from shelter and water since the sloth’s fur is extremely good at absorbing and retaining water.”
The Smithsonian Channel explained on YouTube:
“In mammals, hair parts grow along the spine and flow down the back to the belly. Because sloths spend most of their life upside-down in the trees, its fur grows the other way–belly to back–allowing it to drip dry from the rain.”
To learn more about sloths and their unique hair, the Smithsonian Channel visited Gorgona Snake Island off the coast of Colombia. The island has a population of sloths that move slower than typical sloths due to a lack of viable nutrients within the area.
In the video, they explain of a sloth:
“He keeps still for so long, his fur has developed its own mini ecosystem. Algae is the first organism to colonize his hollow hair follicles. The simple single-celled organisms give his fur a greenish tinge perfect camouflage in the canopy.”
The video went on to explain, “The algae also feeds a species of moth unique to the sloth…Every member of this community benefits the other. The moths fertilize the sloth’s fur with their nutrient-rich droppings that, in turn, encourage more algae to grow which helps protect the sloth through camouflage.”
It’s incredible how a simple like fur could provide so much for the ecosystem around it! If sloths were faster-moving, none of that might be possible.
Watch the video below to learn more: