Monday, February 18, 2013

Where are all the sloths?

   Considering that sloths are one of the most common mammals in the tropical forest, they are surprisingly difficult to see. A study cited by Mark Wainwright in his excellent Natural History of Costa Rican Mammals found that sloths accounted for two-thirds the biomass of terrestrial mammals in a study area in Panama. Despite their abundance, it's not easy to see a sloth, especially the nocturnal Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), the only sloth species found in the Monteverde area. Consider this sloth sleeping less than 3 meters (9 feet) from our bedroom window.
 It was mid-afternoon before we noticed it was there. I don't feel quite so lacking in observational skills after reading in Wainwright's book that " Biologists have found that even individuals that have been precisely radio-located can be impossible to see" because they like to spend the day sleeping in the middle of liana tangles.
  So it's always fun to get a really good view of a sloth. Just looking at a sleeping sloth makes me feel like taking a nap.
 One way to see a sloth is to go on a twilight walk with a guide. Guides often search out a sloth before the tour and sloths are apt to become active around dusk, making them easier to see. The easiest way to see a sloth is to know someone caring for a rescued baby. Babies sometimes fall from their mother and are abandoned. Caring for a baby sloth is a huge commitment as baby sloths stay with their mothers for up to two years.
   Even though two-toes sloths are generally nocturnal, this one was active during the day. Perhaps that special flower was tasty enough to wake up for.

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