Temporal range: 35–0Ma Early Oligocene to Recent
|Linnaeus's two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus)|
Choloepus is a genus of mammals of Central and South America, within the family Megalonychidae consisting of two-toed sloths. The two species of Choloepus (which means "lame foot"), Linnaeus's two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus) and Hoffmann's two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), are the only surviving members of the family Megalonychidae.
Relation to the three-toed sloth
Although similar to the somewhat smaller and generally slower-moving three-toed sloths (Bradypus), the relationship between the two genera is not close. Recent phylogenetic analyses support analysis of morphological data from the 1970s and 1980s, suggesting the two genera are not closely related and each adopted its arboreal lifestyle independently. It is unclear from which, if any, ground-dwelling sloth taxa the three-toed sloths evolved; the two-toed sloths appear to nest phylogenetically within one of the divisions of Caribbean megalonychids, and thus probably either descended from them or are part of a clade that invaded the Caribbean multiple times. Both types tend to occupy the same forests; in most areas, a particular single species of three-toed sloth and a single species of the larger two-toed type will jointly predominate.
As the name implies, they have only two toes on their fore feet, although, like other sloths, they have three toes on the hind feet. They are also larger than three-toed sloths, having a body length of 58 to 70 cm, and weighing 4-8 kg. Other distinguishing features include a more prominent snout, longer fur, and the absence of a tail.
Two-toed sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside down from trees. They cannot walk, so they pull hand-over-hand to move around, which is at an extremely slow rate. Being predominantly nocturnal, their fur, which grows greenish algae to blend in, is their main source of protection. Their body temperatures depend at least partially on the ambient temperature; they cannot shiver to keep warm, as other mammals do, because of their unusually low metabolic rates and reduced musculature. Two-toed sloths also differ from three-toed sloths in their climbing behaviors, preferring to descend head first.
Two-toed sloths have a gestation period of six months to a year, depending on the exact species. The mother gives birth to a single young, while hanging upside down. The young are born with claws, and are weaned after about a month, although they will remain with the mother for several more months, and do not reach sexual maturity until the age of three years, in the case of females, or four to five years, in the case of males.
They eat primarily leaves, but also shoots, fruits, nuts, berries, bark, some native flowers, and even some small rodents. In addition, when they cannot find food, they have been known to eat the algae that grow on their fur for nutrients. They have large stomachs, with multiple chambers, which help to ferment the large amount of plant matter they eat. Food can take up to a month to digest due to their slow metabolism. Depending on when in the excretion cycle a sloth is weighed, urine and feces may account for up to 30% of the animal’s body weight, which averages about 6 kg (13 lb). They get their water from juicy plants.
Dentition and skeleton
Two-toed sloths have a reduced, ever growing dentition, with no incisors or true canines, which overall lacks homology with the dental formula of other mammals. Their first tooth is very canine-like in shape and is referred to as a caniniform. It is separated from the other teeth, or molariforms, by a diastema. The molariforms are used specifically for grinding and are mortar and pestle-like in appearance and function. Thus, they can grind food for easier digestibility, which takes the majority of their energy. The dental formula of two-toed sloths is: 4 (unau)
Two-toed sloths are unusual among mammals in possessing as few as five cervical vertebrae, which may be due to mutations in the homeotic genes. All other mammals have seven cervical vertebrae, other than the three-toed sloth and the manatee.
|Wikispecies has information related to: Choloepus|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Choloepus hoffmanni.|
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- National Geographic: Two-toed sloth profile
- Bristol Zoo: Two-toed sloth
- National Zoo: Two-toed sloth
- America Zoo: Two-toed sloth
- Animal Diversity: Family Megalonychidae