Sloth Versus Sea Turtles

Sloth Versus Sea Turtles

Sloths and Sea Turtles couldn’t be more different animals. One is a furry mammal, and the other is an aquatic reptile. However, these two have more in common than we could think!

Are sloths and sea turtles related?

Sloths and sea turtles are not closely related. They belong to different taxonomic groups: sloths are mammals from the order Pilosa, while sea turtles are reptiles from the order Testudines.

The seven species of sea turtles are the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), flatback sea turtle (Natator depressus), and leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).

All species of sea turtles | Credit Turtle Foundation


Masters of the Sea and the Canopy

Sloths, known for their slow pace, live exclusively in the lush rainforests of Central and South America. These arboreal mammals spend most of their lives upside down from tree branches.

On the other hand, sea turtles are aquatic creatures that navigate the world’s oceans elegantly. These magnificent reptiles can be found in various coastal areas. Unlike sloths who remain their entire lives in the same forest, sea turtles are known for their extensive migrations.


sea turtle
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonya midas) | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Unique Adaptations

Both animals possess remarkable adaptations that aid their survival. Sloths have specialized muscles, limbs, and claws adapted for life in the treetops, while sea turtles boast streamlined shells and flippers that facilitate their graceful movement through the water.


Although sloths are not adapted to live in the ocean, they are actually great swimmers thanks to their stomachs full of gas that allow them to float. Sloths are faster in the water!

Both sloths and sea turtles, when they are on the ground, move a bit clumsy, slow, and awkward!


Tree Leaves and Seagrass

Sloths feed on leaves from the trees they inhabit; they are strictly folivores. Most sea turtles are omnivorous and eat jellyfish, fishes, plants, and crabs, and sadly, they started to eat plastic due to ocean pollution.


sloth mother feeding her baby leaves
Baby sloths learn from their mother what leaves are good to eat

Adult Green turtles are herbivorous that eat seaweed, like the Thalassocnus, an extinct aquatic sloth. Aquatic sloths have adapted their mouths to graze on though vegetation, including seaweed, similar to how green turtles feed.



How long do they live?

Sea turtles are known for their longevity; they can exceed 50 years on average, with some individuals reaching a century. We still don’t know the lifespan of sloths in the wild, but the oldest sloth living in captivity have reached 50 years old! Some scientists believe that sloths, like sea turtles, can live up to 100 years!

Sleeping in the water versus sleeping on the trees

Sea turtles have a fascinating way of sleeping adapted to their life in the ocean. As air-breathing reptiles, some species cannot sleep underwater like fish. Instead, sea turtles exhibit “logging” behavior when they sleep. During logging, a sea turtle will float at the water’s surface, with its head and flippers protruding above the waterline. Green Sea Turtles are among the species that can sleep underwater for extended periods during the day.


Hoffmann’s Two-fingered Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) sleeping | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

Unlike the common belief, sloths do not spend most of their sleeping; on average, they sleep 8 to 10 hours. Like sea turtles, sloths adapted to their lifestyles on the treetops: they developed specialized muscles that allow them to sleep hanging from branches!

Turning Green

Sloths and sea turtles have another thing in common: Algae grow on them!  The algae growing on the shell of sea turtles is not harmful to them, although it’s unknown what effect a large extent of growths may have on a turtle, as shown in the photograph of the Australian photographer Craig Perry. 

Photo: Craig Perry via Daily Mail


Sloths’ hair has micro-cracks in their hair, providing a structure for microscopic algae to attach and grow, turning them green and providing camouflage that helps them blend in the jungle.


Three-fingered sloth (Bradypus variegatus) covered in green algae | Photo: Suzi Eszterhas


Green algae is not the only thing growing on turtles. Different crustaceous species that form colonies on hard surfaces, such as boats or ships, can also be found on turtles’ shells. Sloths carry their own insect colonies of hundreds of moths in their hair!


Solitary animals

Sea turtles and sloths are solitary animals; they rarely engage in social interactions with other members of their species, except during courtship and mating.


Baby sloth versus baby sea turtle

Sloths typically give birth to a single offspring every one to three years. Sea turtles have a remarkable nesting behavior, returning to specific beaches to lay hundreds of eggs in a single clutch.


sea turtle eggs
Sea Turtle eggs at the South Caribbean of Costa Rica | Credit: Turtle Rescue Cahuita


It is not sure what the exact survival rate of baby sloths is. Still, a significant number of them will grow into adulthood. This is because during their first year of life, they stick close to their mother, either on her belly or nearby, and learn the essentials of living as a sloth.


A sloth with her baby. Photo: José Guzman


Sea turtles’ babies never meet their mothers, and only 1 in every 1000 hatchlings will survive to reach adulthood.


Leatherback turtles  before their release |  Credit: Turtle Rescue Cahuita

Threats and Conservation Status

Six of the seven different species of sea turtles are classified as endangered or vulnerable, and two sloth species (maned sloths and pygmy sloths) are classified as vulnerable and critically endangered, respectively.


sea turtle
Olive Ridley Turtle, El Valle, Colombia | Photo Credit: Karla Barrientos Munoz via Sea Turtle Conservancy.


A common threat sloths and turtles have are free-roaming or unsupervised dogs. When sloths are on the ground, they are vulnerable to dog attacks. Sea turtles are also vulnerable to dog attacks when they arrive at a beach, as well as their eggs and hatchlings. To address this, organizations promote the spay and neutering of dogs, responsible ownership, and organizing castration clinics for the communities.

Both animals, sloths and sea turtles, are poached, but for different reasons: sea turtles for their meat and eggs, which are still very popular meat in some communities in Central America and Asia. Sloths are poached for the illegal wildlife trade to be sold as pets. Sea turtles’ shells are also trafficked as jewelry.



Global warming and the decline and loss of healthy habitats are undoubtedly the biggest threat to sloths and sea turtles. Rising oceans, beach erosion, and ocean temperature affect sea turtles’ reproductive cycles and lives. We still need to understand how global warming affects sloths, which rely on ambient temperature for their digestion, but certainly, the change in climate patterns, rainy seasons, and temperature will impact them.

How Can You Help Sloths and sea turtles?

You can support conservation organizations that protect sloths and sea turtles, such as SloCo and Turtle Rescue Cahuita, working in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica;  or Sea Turtle Conservancy, with a presence in different countries, whether donating, volunteering, or promoting their work!


sea turtle and sloth
Left: Sea Turtle Conservancy working at Bocas del Drago, Panama. Credit: Sea Turtle Conservancy | Right: Dr. Cliffe measuring a sloth’s head. Photo: Suzi Eszterhas



Adopting eco-friendly practices to reduce your carbon footprint and minimize plastic use, as plastic pollution is a big issue for turtles, as well as demand the big plastic polluters of the planet to take accountability and manage their waste and products.

Don’t consume turtle meat and eggs, especially if you are a tourist! The hunting will stop if there is no more demand.

While sloths and sea turtles may lead vastly different lives, exploring their similarities and differences highlights the diversity of nature and the importance of conservation to protect all species.


-Cecilia Pamich

Communications & Outreach

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