Sloths: Evolutionary losers or the true king of the jungle? | Lucy Cooke

Sloths: Evolutionary losers or the true king of the jungle? | Lucy Cooke


So it’s no secret that I’ve got a soft
spot for sloths. I founded the Sloth Appreciation Society;
our motto? “Being fast is overrated.” I think the sloth is the true king of the
jungle. But its reputation has been besmirched for
centuries. Every since it was first discovered people
have misunderstood sloths. The first explorers that went to the New World
and saw sloths described them—in no uncertain terms—as absolute losers. There was a conquistador, a Spanish conquistador,
I think he was the first to describe the sloth, said it was “the stupidest animal that could
be found on the planet.” Then they were saddled with a name that speaks
of sin, and just misunderstood for an incredibly long time. And again, they are an animal that people
think of as being some kind of evolutionary loser; because they’re slow we think that
they are therefore kind of stupid and useless. “Well, they can’t run from danger so how
do they survive?” Well, they actually survive very well indeed,
which is why I think they are the true kings of the jungle. Because there was a survey done in a Panamanian
rainforest, and they found that it was something like a third of the mammalian biomass in that
particular forest was made up of sloths. So that’s like you take all the mammals
from the forest—a third—a third of that mass would have been taken up by sloths. So all the rest was all the rats, all the
ocelots, all the tapirs, everything else took up two thirds, but a third of it was sloths,
which is just a huge amount! I mean that’s a very successful creature. Partly we just don’t realize that because
they’re very hard to see, they’re very stealthy. So one of the things, the great things about
being really slow is you don’t really get noticed, which—if you’re trying not to
be eaten—is really quite a good idea. So monkeys for instance: you are always aware
of monkeys. When they turn up there’s a lot of crashing
around and fruit being thrown to the ground, and they make a lot of noise. The sloth is moving very slow, with extraordinary
control. I always watch them and think “Wow the core
control of that animal is amazing!” It’s like watching Swan Lake in slow motion,
I mean they really just move so fantastically slowly. But those slow movements, we think, slip under
the radar of the Harpy eagle as it’s swooping around the canopy; they simply don’t get
noticed. And I think one of the reasons why the early
explorers so misunderstood the sloth is because they were viewing it the wrong way up! So I think when the conquistadors first arrived
in the New World they would have been brought examples of animals, they wouldn’t have
gone into the jungle and observed them in situ, they would have been brought animals. And with the sloth this is an inverted quadruped;
it is designed, it has evolved to live its life upside down, because that’s incredibly
energy efficient. If you live your life upside-down the only
muscles that you really needed to work are these ones, so they can hook on and hang like
a happy hairy hammock and just get on with the busy business of digesting their very
indigestible food. They’re basically sort of dangling fermenting
bags of food. But that upside-down existence requires very
little energy, so they have almost got rid of the muscles that are like triceps, that
hold us erect; they just have the muscles that you use to sort of draw yourself along. When I’m at rest sitting in this chair I’m
using quite a lot of muscles to hold myself upright, but sloths don’t need any of those. So when the early explorers were brought sloths,
of course they were taken out of their context: they were no longer dangling from the tree. The thing about the inverted existence is
that it requires 50 percent, around 50 percent of the muscles of an upright existence, so
it’s much more energy efficient. The problem is if you turn a sloth the wrong
way up gravity removes its dignity, and it sprawls on the ground and is forced to sort
of, like mountaineering on a flat surface, I mean it really is a pitiful sight! They sort of drag themselves along like this. And that, of course, would have been how the
early explorers would have seen them: as a ludicrous quadruped that’s sort of sprawled
on the ground and can’t hold itself up. So I think that was where this idea that they
were “useless” came from, and it stuck.

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57 thoughts on “Sloths: Evolutionary losers or the true king of the jungle? | Lucy Cooke

  1. Prince Harry, are you listening to this peasants? You tell these clowns winter is coming and they talk about sloths and colonizing mars! I just can't today. You take it from here, you are Prince of royal blood too! I am done with these peasants!

  2. Sloths are cute, but no human should aspire to be like a sloth. Keep your head down, don't expend too much energy, don't cause a stir, don't do anything that would get you noticed or cause the least amount of discomfort. Screw that. Be bold. Be a conqueror. Make noise and break things. Build an empire, go to the stars, make new scientific discoveries, impact people's lives. Be a hero, don't be a sloth.

  3. I saw a video of an eagle carrying a sloth away in its claws to its death. Sloth just stood there helpless. They are cute creatures but no, they are losers

  4. I don't think an animal is an evolutionary loser if it's not extinct and not kept alive by people like pandas

  5. I'll take the Jaguar as king of the jungle. What could possibly be perceived as noble about a sloth? They do make a fine growing medium for moss.

  6. According to evolution…
    A single celled organism started it all..turned into a tadpole..turned into a gecko..turned into a rat..turned into a possum..turned into a dog..turned into a monkey..turned into human..

    So my point…by evolutionary standards..there should only be one species…humans…all the other animals and amphibians we were at once…
    Evolution is a ridiculous theory..
    Its the most preposterous claim ever made and i truly question the mental capacity of individuals who believe such rubbish

  7. Sloths… koalas, pandas, … (sigh) Good thing the kiddies are learning an important lesson: if you're cute, then automatically, you're winner, don't need to bother with anything else

  8. So I love sloths, think they are awesome but King of the Jungle… Ummm no… And to have someone who is clearly so undeniably bias toward Sloths offering up a true scientific analysis on why Sloths could be a contender for "King of the Jungle" is a joke… A huge JOKE! Listen to this person talk spout off about a clearly anecdotal theory about what early explorers thought somehow makes me less intelligent…

  9. I think you're probably half-right about Sloths/Conquistodour re. bad first impressions. While the first specimins were probably shot and poked with a stick for saftey, they later would have been trapped in cages, from which they could hang. More importantly, the majority of Conquistodourian food would be shot, skinned, disembowled, prepped, salted and cooked shortly after on a fire. These aren't people who are unaware of captive vs wild physiological adaptation.

    I think it's more likely that the Conquistodours were hyperbolic with their assesment of the Sloth in much the same way that Greenland is called Greenland. Big discoveries are sometimes more important to researchers than the truth, which is inherently anti-scientific, and remains a huge problem to this day.

    If this animal was discovered today, it would be said to "hold the cure to autism" and "stabalizes its surrounding environment to such a degree that if it were not for the Sloth, WW3 would have started in Central America 2 years before Hilter even came to power". If you asked how this could be mathematically possible, you would be called a Nazi-timeline-sympathiser and unappollogetic Sloth-discriminator who needs to seek out re-education – although it won't help much because your use of "alternative facts" points to inherent and unfixable racism that is part of your oppressor identity. Give me more funding or i will call you racist too #youtoo

  10. on google images which is ran by deepmind, when I typed in
    result of deepmind with only scoring points, no errors ever, when only just now learning
    one of the images was the text brutal intelligence, AI, the human mind

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