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.
Today, there are only two genera of sloths, the two- and three-toed varieties, with six species between them. Apart from the number of toes, there may not seem to be much difference between them. Both live in trees, move slowly, and much leaves. But the fossil record is full of sloth species that are nothing like their modern members.
Thalassocnus lived on the beaches of Peru between four and eight million years ago. While its modern relatives can paddle in the water, this sloth was at home in the sea.
Megatherium were giant sloths that lived until around 8,000 years ago. They weren’t merely giant in relation to modern sloths; they were as big as elephants. Despite their colossal size, it was once believed that they, like present sloths, lived in trees. If that were true, ancient humans would have been thankful if these sloths descended from trees to use the bathroom.
Megalocnus, a ground sloth from Cuba, only died out in 2200 BC. If it seems like we just missed out on all the great sloths, then we need to look beyond the cute faces of our sloths and appreciate just how special they are.