Sloths poop once a week, and on the ground. This is odd for a tree dwelling creature, and even more disturbingly, this simple act results in about half of all sloth deaths. So how would you feel knowing that taking a dump in the woods could potentially lead to death? I bet it’s a situation that you would rather avoid. But it’s not the reason sloths poop once a week. So why do sloths poop once a week?
It all comes down to their diet. As you may recall, we recently compiled an article about how long koalas sleep a day. The culprit there, as it is here, was the diet of leaves. Just as with the koalas, the three toes sloth, which is also the slowest mammal alive, only eats leaves. Leaves are notoriously difficult to digest and provide minimal sustenance and energy. There’s bugger all bang for your buck. Because it takes so long to digest even the smallest amount of leaf, sloths don’t need to take a regular toilet break. Lucky guys, right? But when they do it can be a disaster.
So a sloth doesn’t need to take bathroom breaks all that often, and thankfully so. Being the slowest mammal, and a tree dweller, a trip to the ground, even if ever so brief, is a dangerous endeavor. While on the ground they are susceptible to all kinds of predators, and are defenseless. Their only sanctuary is in the tree tops. Yet they still venture down, once a week, to dig a small hole with their tails and take a poop. Is the risk worth it, especially considering that they can do the same thing from the safety of a tree branch and let gravity take care of the rest. So why do they do it?
No one knows for certain the reason that sloths poop once a week on the ground. It’s a practice that has been the subject of more than a handful of studies. Some have suggested they do this to fertilize their favorite tree, or to mark their territory, which is definitely possible. But a recent suggestion is that moths could play a part.
Sloths are intriguing creatures. They are home to many different breeds of insects, and their body has even adapted to provide the perfect environment for some of these insects. In fact, it is thought that sloths defecate on the ground to help sustain a breed of moth that solely relies on the sloth for survival. When they do their business, the adult moths quickly fly off to lay eggs in the fresh dung. This helps the breeding cycle of the moths to survive. While it is possible that this is an explanation for the behavior, it’s not known for certain. A moth should be able to fly down to the ground just as easily from a tree branch as from the ground itself.