9. Survival Tactics

9.1 Predators

Sloths’ primary natural predators are jaguars, ocelots, and harpy eagles. One would think that sloths would make easy prey for these jungle predators, however, millions of years of evolution have made sloths masters of disguise– their slow and silent movements blend in perfectly to the swaying branches of the jungle canopy.

9.2 Stealth

Sloths avoid predators that hunt by sight by moving very slowly and carefully. They are so slow that their movements fall below the threshold that triggers the attention of most predators. 

It has been said that a gun could be fired next to a sloth’s head and the animal wouldn’t even turn around, leading to speculation that sloths are deaf.

However, the sloth’s natural reaction, when faced with a threatening situation, is to stay completely still. They have evolved specifically to not break stealth by reacting to sudden loud sounds.

sloth stealth

9.3 Odorless

Sloths avoid predators that hunt by scent by not producing any body odor of their own. Instead, the same algae and fungi that disguise sloths in the visual spectrum also make the sloth smell like a plant rather than an animal, helping them blend seamlessly into the jungle.

9.4 Defense

When threatened, two-fingered sloths can inflict a nasty bite and make their hair stand on end to appear larger (piloerection). Three-fingered sloths, however, rarely bite and cannot fluff their fur. To appear bigger they can only raise their arms above their head in a defensive posture and try to look more intimidating.

angry sloth

9.5 Camouflage

Their grey and brown fur helps them blend into the wood of the jungle trees, and their algae-coated fur makes them the only mammal in the world that looks green. This helps them blend into the leaves and vines in which they forage and sleep.

9.6 Invisible under infrared

As Poikilotherms the sloth’s temperature is very close to the surrounding environment at all times, confounding the pit organ that snakes use to “see” heat. This makes sloths difficult to detect across the entire visible spectrum, even the infrared.

sloth camouflage