Sloths have a short end in many ways. Who wants to be named after a deadly crime? Nor is it merely an English quirk to call them “sloths”; Other languages have names around terms like “lazy”, “slow” and “sleep”. The three-toed sloth’s scientific name, Bradypus, means “slow feet” in Greek. Only their cute, slightly confused looks worthy of an Internet meme can save them from being written off as completely useless.
But sloths are much more than just small bags of laziness. Here’s a fact about sloths to change their bizarre lethargy in the animal kingdom.
Despite spending most of their lives in trees, sloths are fantastic swimmers. This relates in part to their large stomachs. Digestion can be a somewhat gassy affair for anyone, and for vegetarians, even more so. A sloth’s large and bloated stomach acts as a natural aid to buoyancy. Doing a passable breast stroke, they move faster in water than they do on land.
You might ask why a sloth would ever need to swim. A rain forest is wet overall but not usually very wet at the tops of its trees. Sloths have to move from tree to tree and area to area in search of food and mates. If they were unable to swim, then any stream would be impassable.
Like almost everything a sloth does, though, their swimming is slightly shambolic. A strong current can easily submerge them. Here, their relaxed attitude to metabolism comes to the rescue. Some experiments (which would not pass an ethics committee today) have shown they can go for as long as 40 minutes without breathing. Their lazy lifestyle means that they require little oxygen.