Treetops at Risk pp 195-199

Why Do Sloths Poop on the Ground?

  • Bryson Voirin
  • Roland Kays
  • Martin Wikelski
  • Margaret Lowman
Chapter

Abstract

The bizarre ground-based defecation behavior of two- and three-toed sloths remains one of the most paradoxical and humorous mysteries in canopy biology. Both two-toed (Choloepus sp.) and three-toed (Bradypus sp.) sloths defecate and urinate only once every 4–8 days in the wild. Although all other arboreal mammals release their excrement from the forest canopy, all sloths climb down from the treetops and relieve themselves on the forest floor. In the canopy, sloths have few predators, but on the ground, sloths expose themselves to great variety of predators. There must be some defining reason behind this high-risk behavior.

Keywords

Sloth Defecation Arboreal mammals 

References

  1. Beebe W (1926) The three-toed sloth. Bradypus cucullinger cucullinger Wagler. Zoologica 7:1–67Google Scholar
  2. Buffon BGEL (1848) Oeuvres completes de Buffon. Volume 4. Au Bureaudes publications illustrees, Paris, FranceGoogle Scholar
  3. Fowler JM, Cope JB (1964) Notes on Harpy Eagle in British Guiana. Auk 81:257–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Galetti M, Carvalho O Jr (2000) Sloths in the diet of a harpy eagle nestling in Eastern Amazon. Wilson Bull 112(4):535–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Goffart M (1971) Function and form in the sloth. Pergamon Press, Oxford/New York/Sydney/Toronto/BraunschweigGoogle Scholar
  6. Leigh E (1999) Tropical forest ecology: a view from Barro Colorado Island. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. McNab BK (1978) Energetics of arboreal folivores: physiological problems and ecological consequences of feeding on an ubiquitous food supply. In: Montgomery GG (ed) The ecology of arboreal folivores. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  8. Montgomery GG, Sunquist ME (1975) Impact of sloths on neotropical forest energy flow and nutrient cycling. In: Golley FB, Medina E (eds) Tropical ecological systems, Trends in terrestrial and aquatic research. Springer, New York, 293 ppGoogle Scholar
  9. Montgomery GG, Sunquist ME (1978) Habitat selection and use by two- and three-toed sloths. In: Montgomery, GG (ed). The ecology of arboreal folivores. Washington, DC : Smithsonian Institution PressCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Nagy A, Montgomery GG (1980) Field metabolic rate, water flux, and food consumption in three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus). J Mammal 61:465–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Pacheco MA, Concepción JL, Rosales Rangel JD, Ruiz MC, Michelangeli F, Domínguez–Bello MG (2007) Stomach lysozymes of the three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus), an arboreal folivore from the Neotropics. Comp Biochem Physiol 147(3):808–819CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Rattenborg NC, Voirin JB, Vyssotski AL, Kays RW, Spoelstra K, Kuemmeth F, Heidrich W, Wikelski MC (2008) Sleeping outside the box: electroencephalographic measures of sleep in sloths inhabiting a rainforest. Biol Lett 4:402–405PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Rettig N (1978) Breeding behavior of the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). The Auk 95:629–643Google Scholar
  14. Sunquist ME, Montgomery GG (1973) Activity patterns and rates of movement of two-toed and three-toed sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni and Bradypus infuscatus). J Mammal 54:946–954PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Touchton J, Hsu YC, Palleroni A (2002) Foraging ecology of reintroduced captive–bred subadult Harpy Eagles (Harpia harpyja) on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Ornithol Neotrop 13:365–379Google Scholar
  16. Voirin B, Kays R, Lowman M, Wikelski M (2009) Evidence of three-toed sloth predation by spectacled owl. Edentata 10:15–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Waage JK, Montgomery GG (1976) Cryptoses choloepi: a coprophagous moth that lives on a sloth. Science 193(4248):157–158PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Young OP (1981) The utilization of sloth dung in a neotropical forest. Coleopterists Bull 35(4):427–430Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bryson Voirin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Roland Kays
    • 3
    • 2
    • 4
  • Martin Wikelski
    • 1
    • 4
  • Margaret Lowman
    • 5
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for OrnithologyRadolfzellGermany
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstitutePanamaRepública de Panamá
  3. 3.North Carolina Museum of Natural SciencesRaleighUSA
  4. 4.North Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  5. 5.North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations