The maned three-toed sloth spends practically its entire life in trees. It feeds strictly on leaves, twigs and buds and is well adapted to this way of life (5). It does not have incisors and crops leaves with its hard lips instead. The side teeth grow continuously as they are worn down by the grinding of food. Common to all sloths, the stomach is long and multi-chambered, and is filled with cellulose-digesting bacteria, which enables the extraction of energy from nutrition-poor leaves (6). It also has a low metabolic rate at 40-45% that of a typical animal their size, and it takes days to process food that other ruminants could process in hours. This benefits the sloth though, by enabling it to survive on relatively little food (3) (6).
As the sloth has such a low metabolic rate, it is an extremely slow and sluggish mover in the trees, travelling an average of 38 meters a day, and sleeping for around 15 hours of the day. It also maintains a low body temperature, from 30-34ºC, which helps conserve energy (3). This unusual animal has around half the body muscle of most other mammals, presumably to make more space for the digestive chamber, and so it cannot keep warm by shivering (3). Instead they select trees with exposed crowns and regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of the shade (4). Another unusual feature of this mammal is that it spends most of its time hanging upside down from branches and as a result, many of its internal organs are in different positions from other mammals (5). Sloths are also surprisingly good swimmers (4).
The maned three-toed sloth leads a solitary life and has a home range as large as 16 acres which can overlap with those of other individuals (3). It travels from tree to tree using canopy creepers, or more rarely by descending to the forest floor and crawling to the next tree (2). In the trees its motionless state and camouflage makes it difficult to see, but descending to the exposed forest floor renders the sloth vulnerable to predators such as jaguars and eagles, especially as it cannot escape by moving quickly and can only use its claws in defence (5). Due to these threats it only leaves its tree to find more food, to defecate around once a week and to find a mate (6).
Females give birth once a year to a single offspring after a gestation period of about six months. The young clings to the mother’s belly and is carried for up to six months, until it is strong enough to hang from branches unaided (4). There is a strong bond between the female and her young which is important for learning and development and the young inherit a portion of the mother’s home range. Even when the young leaves the mother’s home range, it maintains contact through calls (7).