Luna update: February 2022

Luna update: February 2022

2021, The year of Luna with Sol

We added Luna and Sol to the Urban Sloth Project in March 2021. Once Luna was fitted with a collar in March, we were able to track her and baby Sol every day. We estimated baby Sol to be around three or four months old at this time, but sloths are very difficult to age–we were unable to weigh Sol, which is usually the best way to guess a baby sloth’s age.

 

sloths on the ground mom and baby

 

In August we began to see Sol becoming more curious about his surroundings; at first, it was only a limb or two reaching into the liana vines, but one day we came to track them, and we found him sitting next to Luna instead of on her belly!

He wasn’t quite ready to leave Luna entirely, and there was a lot of him going back and forth between his mama and the branches. We felt like proud parents watching little Sol gain his independence.

Becoming independent

By October, we confirmed that baby Sol was all grown up! We had consistently seen him separate from his mother, until one day they were no longer sharing the same tree.

In most mammals, once the parents raise the young to independence, the young are expected to disperse and find their own territory. With sloths, once the baby is ready, the mother leaves them with a portion of her own territory and moves on herself.

 

Baby Sol

We were able to witness this with Sol, to whom Luna left her very favorite tree, while she moved further south. Luna moved all the way to the other side of the lot they occupied, leaving the tree she raised her baby on to her grown-up boy.  According to our calculations, Sol gained independence at 10 months old.

 

December: Sol is finally grown up

We still tracked Luna every day, but with no radio collar, it has been hard to find Sol! We have seen him around a few times in his little territory that borders his mother’s, but if he decided to make a big move we probably wouldn’t know about it. Luna has continued to thrive in the new, more southerly portion of her territory, which she shares with a number of other sloths.

One Saturday in mid-December, when the tracking team went out to find Luna, they instead found massive deforestation occurring, with chainsaws and bulldozers cutting down their trees. Happily, the community made a big protest about this, the tree felling was stopped, and has not resumed while the relevant authorities are looking into it.

 

deforestation

A new year, a new baby!

We’ve been waiting for it ever since Sol moved on to find his own territory, and the day has finally arrived: Luna has a new baby! Baby Celeste was born in the last week of January (2022), and is sooo tiny!

 

Luna and her new baby, Celeste. Can you spot the antenna?

 

Luna probably went into heat and conceived shortly after Sol started independently exploring in August. Although we are not precisely sure of the gestation period of three-fingered sloths, we estimate it is approximately six months. Researchers have not yet had the opportunity to observe a three-fingered sloth during the entirety of her pregnancy, so this gestation period is still being determined.

 

sloth mom and baby
We think Luna is quite young, but as it is nearly impossible to determine the age of a wild sloth (until we can afford some telomere analysis) we are mostly guessing. She does not have the full complement of green algae on her fur that would indicate a completely mature fur ecosystem, but she does have a nice patchwork of browns and greys that is quite fetching.

 

Luna’s territory is a good one for sloths

Or it would be if they’d stop cutting down the trees. Several three-fingered mothers are known to inhabit the area. Thus when Sarah stopped by Luna’s territory while covering a shift for Ames (who was quarantined with Covid) she did not immediately recognize the mama sloth with a days-old baby velcroed to her side as our lady Luna.

 

sloths in guarumo after deforestation
Luna shares her territory with more sloths.

 

Since the area’s deforestation in December it’s not unusual to find crowds of tourists gathered around the lone guarumo trees, watching and snapping pictures of the half dozen three-fingered sloths that can be seen on any given day. When the crowds are looking up, we know everything is in order and the Sloth Star of the Day is high in the trees and safe. When the crowds are looking down at the ground, we know there is most likely a sloth trying to get somewhere, and it’s time to intervene. The intervention consists of politely explaining to people that the sloths are not here to meet them and asking the tourists to give them a little space so the sloths can get where they are going.

This is what was happening on a Friday when Sarah spotted a crowd and went to see whether the sloth needed an advocate or not. The sloth in question was crawling across an obstacle course of felled trees and organic debris, trying to get from one tree island to the next.

 

 

At first, Sarah was quite confident that no, this was not Luna–because look at that tiny baby!–but once she pulled out her own phone camera she was able to zoom in and see the antenna of Luna’s tracking collar. Our favorite mom was a mother all over again.

Sarah got some great footage to use as evidence that reforesting and bridge-building in this part of the maritime zone needs to be made a priority, because who can resist helping out baby sloths?

At least now we know why Luna disappeared on us for a few days; clearly, she just wanted some peace and quiet to deliver her new daughter, currently weighing in at around 300 g. That’s about 10 oz, or about two average-sized smartphones. (For the record, we don’t actually know that the baby is a girl. Right now we’re guessing, and we figured since we called her last baby a boy we needed to even up the gender ratio a bit.)

Though he won’t contribute much to raising little Celeste, we think we know who the father is, as there is only one mature male in Luna’s territory. We don’t have a name for him, but maybe his newest daughter will grow up to look like him!

The babies of Luna

The sex of the babies will remain a mystery for some time as all genitalia are hidden internally in three-fingered sloths. The best and least invasive way to determine male from female is to look out for the brightly colored speculum that develops on all male Bradypus sloths (with the exception of the maned sloths). Unfortunately, the speculum does not develop until sexual maturity (at approximately two years old) which means that it can be difficult to know the sex of sloths before this point.

 

-SloCo Team

A Little Taste of Heaven: Tracking Diaries #8

A Little Taste of Heaven: Tracking Diaries #8

I’m standing amongst the wreckage of felled trees and bulldozed undergrowth, my boots crunching on dead vegetation, but I’m not looking down.

I’m looking up. I’ve heard from Sarah that Luna has a new baby, just days old, and I haven’t seen her yet.

I haven’t seen much of sloths lately, it feels like. Between my other duties over the holidays and a couple of Covid scares I’ve become a little too intimately familiar with the view from my desk, the exact number of dead pixels on my computer screen, and the utter indolence of my cats, who literally do nothing other than sleep and demand food.

It feels a bit disorienting to be out in the field again. The last time I was this deep in Luna’s territory, it had more trees and less gravel, before some jerk came and tried to pave the place over. I watched from the other side of my phone screen as SloCo came to the rescue and notified the appropriate authorities of that transgression, and cheered through my coughing fits as my the community saved the remaining trees from the heavy equipment and sweated through a blistering hot day to put up fence posts to keep the tourists’ cars from finishing what the bulldozers had started.

 

 

It was in the dead branches of some of her former trees that Sarah found Luna and her new baby, trying to crawl to a safe haven through the twisted roots and twigs and spiders. Sarah reported that Luna arrived in her new tree safely, and it is now my job to figure out what the heck tree that actually was.

 

 

Our tracking equipment is being even weirder than usual. According to our radio receiver, Luna has in fact boarded a raft and is bound for—a quick check of Google maps—Aruba. It’s possible that the jungle has rusted some secret but essential piece of electronics deep inside the receiver, or that I’ve forgotten how to track sloths, or maybe that the antenna is possessed by demons.

(Note so self, Google “how to do an exorcism” when I get home. Don’t tell my boss.)

I’m still fiddling with the equipment when I have one of those perfect sloth tracking moments: I just happen to look up at a movement out of the corner of my eye and catch a slow-moving silhouette on the side of the guarumo tree. Quick as a cat, I whip out my binoculars, and then fist punches the air as I spot a three-fingered female with an itty bitty little replica of herself clinging to her fur. Another minute confirms the radio collar on her neck—this is definitely Luna!

 

 

The receiver is still insisting that Luna is somewhere out on the Caribbean waves, so I turn it off and instead pull out my phone, snap a few pictures, and then settle in for a good look at her.

Baby sloths are cute on a level that maybe ought not to be legal. They almost don’t look real; they’re just arms and eyes and fuzzy cuddles incarnate, like the living manifestation of a hug.

By now a crowd has gathered around me to marvel at the sloths. Luna has settled onto the branch she was after and gone to sleep. Watching them, I have to smile. Luna’s territory will take a long time to regrow, but here in front of me is proof that new life, and new growth, is always possible. We have named the baby Celeste, which means “heavenly”. It is also the Spanish word for the color of a clear sky in the daytime.

If you want a little taste of heaven, sometimes all you have to do is look up.

-Ames Reeder