Sloth Types: A Complete List of All Species

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

A three-toed or three-fingered sloth from Costa Rica / Banu R via Istock
A three-toed or three-fingered sloth from Costa Rica / Banu R via Istock

Sloths are uncommon animals that can be found only in the tropical rainforests of South America and Central America.

Sloths are related to armadillos and anteaters since they belong to the xenarthran suborder.

These animals, notable for their slow metabolisms and lack of teeth, first appeared in South America during the late Paleocene some 60 million years ago.

Sloths got their name because of their slow movements, and these animals are almost completely helpless on the ground.

However, they are better swimmers than they are walkers.

Sloths have hair that extends from their arms and legs away from their bodies and splits down the middle of their chest and belly.

Because they spend most of their lives hanging upside down, this offers superior protection against the weather.

Two-toed sloth hanging from a tree
Two-toed sloth hanging from a tree | tomalu via Getty Images

They hide in the trees, and because their body hair is tangled with symbiotic green algae, they can easily camouflage in their natural habitat. 

There are two types of sloths; two-toed and three-toed sloths.

These two types are further divided into six distinct species.

Two-toed sloths are sometimes called two-fingered sloths, and they have two digits on their thoracic limbs (forelimbs) and three digits on their pelvic limbs (hindlimbs).

On the other hand, three-toed sloths have three digits on all limbs.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the different sloth species and what makes them different.

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6. Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth

A Linnaeus's Two-toed sloth on the move
A Linnaeus’s Two-toed sloth on the move | Pamela Carpenter via Getty Images

This species is also known as the southern two-toed sloth or Linne’s two-toed sloth.

They are found in South America, particularly in Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru. Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth species are believed to be the slowest mammals, but they are more significant than three-toed sloths.

These sloths are relatively small, with many weighing between eight and 19 pounds and averaging between 46 and 86 cm long.

The Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth ranges in color from gray-brown to beige with a distinctive greenish cast because of the algae that grow there.

Its coat has an underlayer of shorter, finer hairs and an upper layer of long, bristly hairs.

Relaxed sleepy Linnaeus's two-toed sloth
Relaxed sleepy Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth / xtrekx via iStock

The primary distinctive feature of this sloth is that it has three toes on its hind legs and two on its forelegs.

The Linnaeus sloth range encompasses Brazil, Peru, northern South America, and Central America.

This species prefers the high canopy of tropical rainforests as its home.

They like to pick a comfortable tree and curl up into a comfortable sleeping position, spending most of their time sleeping for at least 15 hours daily.

The four-inch (8–10 cm) long claws on the Linnaeus two-toed sloths enable them to hang upside down.

Although they can swim, these sloths rarely do.

5. Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth

A Hoffman's Two-Toed Sloth hangs in a tree and yawns
A Hoffman’s Two-Toed Sloth hangs in a tree and yawns | Jay Scarlett via Getty Images

Also called the northern two-toed sloth, Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth is a sloth species from Central and South America.

The species is named after the German naturalist Karl Hoffmann.

This sloth species is easily confused with the Linnaeus two-toed sloth, but the primary difference between both species lies in their skeletal features.

Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth is bigger than three-toed sloths.

This species averages between almost five and 20 pounds.

Despite considerable size overlap, females are typically larger than males.

A Hoffmann Two-Toed Sloth at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica
A Hoffmann Two-Toed Sloth at La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica / Geoff Gallice via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

The color of their fur ranges from tan to light brown, and it’s lighter on the face.

However, because algae live in the hairs, it frequently has a greenish tinge.

This species prefers to live in tropical rainforests, where it spends almost all its time hanging on branches with the use of powerful grips and lengthy claws.

Because they spend most of the day sleeping, these sloths are most active at night.

Due to their weak hind legs and long claws, these sloths cannot move quickly on land but are better swimmers.

4. Brown-throated Sloth

Brown-throated Sloth
Brown-throated Sloth | Wirestock via Getty Images

In Central and South America’s Neotropical region, there is a species of three-toed sloth called the brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus).

Of all three-toed sloths, the brown-throated species is the most common and can be found in the forests of South and Central America.

Due to their excellent camouflage and slow movement, brown-throated three-toed sloths are less visible, which lowers their vulnerability to predation.

Brown-throated three-toed sloths, as their name suggests, have brown coloring on their throat and head.

They have a layer of dense, woolly fur underneath their short, soft, and delicate outer coat.

Some individuals have a greenish tint because algae frequently live on the outer layer.

Three-toed-sloth in Lake Gatun, Republic of Panama
Three-toed-sloth in Lake Gatun, Republic of Panama / Stefan Laube via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

The brown-throated sloth is similar in size and structure to other three-toed sloth species, with both sexes measuring 17 to 31 inches in length overall.

Adults range in size from five to 13.9 pounds, with no discernible gender differences in weight.

Both diurnal and nocturnal, brown-throated three-toed sloths sleep for 14 to 16 hours daily.

Adults rarely interact socially with one another, yet communication, particularly vocalization between mothers and their young, is significant.

Although they are not picky eaters, these sloths are strict herbivores, and an individual sloth may consume a relatively small variety of leaf types.

Most of the liquids that brown-throated sloths consume come from the leaves they eat, but they have been seen drinking straight from rivers.

3. Pale-throated Sloth

Pale-throated Sloth
Pale-throated Sloth | Alberto Carrera via Getty Images

Primarily found in the tropical rainforests in northern South America, the pale-throated sloth is also called the ai.

It resembles the brown-throated sloth, which has a much wider distribution and is frequently confused with it because of its similar appearance.

Genetic evidence reveals that both species split into two separate ones around six million years ago.

The rounded heads of pale-throated sloths feature a blunt nose and short external ears.

Their arms are also almost twice as long as their hindlimb.

Like all three-toed sloths, their fore and hindlimbs have three digits, each equipped with long, arching claws, of which the middle is the largest and most potent.

Pale-throated sloth suspended from tree limbs
Pale-throated sloth suspended from tree limbs / G.dallorto via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Males weigh between 7.1 and 13.2 pounds and range in length from 18 to 22 inches.

However, females are substantially bigger, measuring between 20 and 30 inches long and weighing between 8.4 and 14.3 pounds.

Pale-throated sloths are loners and herbivores and spend almost all their lives in trees.

Due to their chosen environments, they only consume the leaves, twigs, and buds of the Cecropia, Ceiba, Elizabetha, and Hevea tree species.

Although living most of their lives in trees, they are proficient swimmers.

2. Maned Sloths

Maned sloth
Maned sloth | Rogerio Peccioli via Getty Images

South America is home to the three-toed maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus).

Because of their dwindling population, the species is categorized as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is restricted to the Atlantic coastal rainforest of southeastern and northeastern Brazil.

Three-toed maned sloths spend the majority of the day sleeping and eating.

Maned three-toed sloths have brown chins and faces, and their heads can turn 360 degrees.

The maned sloth gets its name from the mane of black hair that cascades down its neck and shoulders, and the manes in males are usually longer and darker than those of females.

Southern maned sloth
Southern maned sloth | deboas via Wikipedia CC BY 4.0

The largest species of three-toed sloths are the maned species, and females are often bigger and heavier than males.

Male adults weigh 8.8 to 16.5 pounds and have a head-to-body length of 22 to 28 inches.

Females, on the other hand, often weigh 9.9 to 22.3 pounds, with a length of 22 to 30 inches.

The pelage on maned sloths ranges from light brown to gray.

Maned sloth hanging in a tree
Maned sloth hanging in the tree | Superjakob via Zoo Builder

Maned sloths are solitary diurnal creatures that spend 60 to 80% of the day sleeping, with the remaining time evenly split between feeding and moving around.

These sloths also like to sleep with their heads tucked between their forelegs.

Maned sloths are folivores, meaning they only consume the leaves of trees.

Although they eat a variety of plants, some are more frequently devoured than others.

1. Pygmy Three-toed Sloth

Pygmy three-toed sloth
Pygmy three-toed sloth | Wirestock via Getty Images

The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is also known as the monk or dwarf sloth.

Discovered at the beginning of the 21st century, this sloth species can be found only in Isla Escudo de Veraguas, a small island in Panama.

Because of its very limited habitat range, the species is listed by the IUCN as “critically endangered” and even counts as one of the world’s 100 most threatened species.

While considerably smaller than the other members of its genus, the pygmy three-toed sloth shares many characteristics with the brown-throated sloth.

The full body length of this species is between 19 and 21 inches, with a weight between five and eight pounds.

The pygmy three-toed sloth has a tan face with an orange patch surrounding a dark band across the brow.

Pygmy three-toed sloth
Pygmy three-toed sloth hanging on a tree | NaturalWorldLover via Nature Rules Fandom

A dark stripe runs through the middle of the dark-brown back, and the throat is gray to brown and paler than the underbelly.

On the island of Isla Escudo de Veragua, pygmy three-toed sloths have only been discovered living in the coastal red mangroves.

Pygmy three-toed sloths can walk on land and swim but prefer to stay in the trees.

They can be active at any time of day, much like other sloths, and spend most of their time napping or lounging around.

They rarely venture far and usually live alone.

Pygmy three-toed sloths are arboreal folivores.

They consume leaves from numerous varieties of plants and have a slow metabolism.


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