Life Lessons From A Sloth: The Benefits Of Living Green

Today is International Sloth Day, and it would be a vast understatement to say I love these tree-dwelling mammals. I’ve learned a lot from sloths over the years, and have found their behavior can be a wonderful model for how to live our own lives.

So, let’s take a look at this fascinating creature and find ways to improve our well-being by adopting the “Sloth Life.”

Living Green

Sloths really are fascinating little critters. They are specifically adapted to living in dense forests, eating leaves from the trees where they spend the majority of their time. Often, these animals have a musty brown or green shade to them. However, this isn’t from the food they eat (like green sea turtles who embody the motto “you are what you eat”), this coloration comes from algae that grows all over the sloth.

Three-toed Sloth covered in algae (Photo Credit: Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica)

This alga is an incredible symbiotic relationship between animal and plant. First, this particular type of algae can only grow on sloths, so sloths are necessary for the alga’s survival. Second, the alga becomes home to a variety of other animals that eat the algae. Other insects join the small ecosystem growing on the sloth to eat the bugs eating the algae. Within one sloth, there can be hundreds of moths, beetles, and even worms, all living together and depending on the sloth.

More than just a special alga that grows on sloths, sloths are also home to a special moth species. Here’s the remarkable life-cycle and how connected to sloths this moth is. When the sloth descends from their tree home to defecate, the female sloth moth lays her eggs. After the eggs hatch, the larvae wait for the sloth to descend again and hop aboard the Sloth…well, Non-Express. Researchers have found as many as 100 sloth moths on a single sloth. The moths eat the special sloth algae, and they are protected from most predators, such as birds.

But here is where the life lesson comes into play. The sloth living the green life is all well and good for the algae, the bugs, and the other creatures. But they are not altruistic creatures. The sloth gets something out of this relationship, as well.

Sloths are prey species in the rainforest. Everything from harpy eagles to jaguars wants to eat the delicious mammal. Since sloths cannot rely on speed and agility to get away from danger, they must rely on camouflage– hiding so well that their predators cannot find them. And here is where the algae help them the most.

Sloths are already very good at blending in with their surroundings. I remember visiting the ARTIS Royal Zoo in Amsterdam, where they had a free-roaming rainforest exhibit. I found the sloth but only because I was specifically seeking her out, as a friend told me to look for her. But it was hard. She blended in so well with the crook of the tree where she was sleeping. Without my friend’s guidance, I never would have found her.

Master of camouflage

However, jaguars are a little keener on spotting their prey than us humans. They can smell their prey even when they can’t see them. Which is how living green really benefits the sloth. The alga doesn’t just help the sloths blend in with their surroundings, it hides their scent as well.

The Benefits of Living Green

Okay, so maybe we don’t have to worry too much about a jaguar smelling us out and eating us. BUT, taking a page out of the sloth-living handbook can be very beneficial to us. Living green doesn’t just help the planet. It certainly benefits the creatures who call earth (and ocean) home, but WE live here too. And more than just protecting our home, living green can be very good for us as well.

Eating Green

I’ve spoken about eating green in the past, but it’s worth mentioning again. When I say Eating Green, I don’t mean eating greens (although it certainly is a part of Eating Green). I mean eating with our health and the health of the planet in mind.

A Green Eater is someone who reduces single-use plastic, cuts down on food miles by buying locally sourced food whenever possible, and eliminates problematic ingredients such as palm oil, soybean oil, processed sugar and flour, and factory-farmed meats. These practices help cut down our carbon footprint, pollution, and deforestation. Great for the planet! They also help eliminate unhealthy junk food and promote healthier eating habits. Which is fantastic for us!

I guess we could use the sloth as a model for how to eat (if not WHAT to eat). Eat green. Be green.

Experience Nature

How does exercise help the environment? Well, with ZooFit, I show how we can make our own workout equipment with household items, and how we can switch out our car for riding our bikes or walking to our destination whenever feasible. But my favorite way to help the environment while exercising is the one where we don’t even realize we’re helping the environment.

Just get outside!

Yup, whatever feels good to you, go there. Hiking in the mountains? Kayaking on a lake? Biking to a farmer’s market? Visiting a zoo? Do all that, or whatever activity you enjoy outdoors. How does having a good time help the environment? It’s something I call “passive conservation.” The more we enjoy being in nature, the more we appreciate it and want to do what we can to maintain this special spot for us, for our family, and for future generations to come. This inspires us to contribute to conservation actions by donating, volunteering our time, or just doing our part to ensure our favorite wild place stays beautiful– picking up trash, planting trees, buying locally produced foods, and sharing information with others.

The sloth is the ultimate tree-hugger, and I think this creature is onto something. So let’s get outdoors and love our planet.

Slow and Steady

Okay, so perhaps this blog wasn’t exactly what you expected when you see a post about sloths and adopting their way of life. Be honest, how many expected me to go the route of “take it slow” and how we can find harmony by taking time to stop and smell the roses?

This is important, too. Sloths certainly do share that we need to take time for ourselves and keep life in harmony. It’s about give and take. The sloth doesn’t just give a wonderful home to an ecosystem of algae, fungi, and insects. It benefits from living a green life, too. We also must reap the benefits if we want to change the world. It’s only fair.

So, when you want to adopt the sloth way of life, ease into it. Take your time, and progress little by little. Soon, you’ll be hanging with the best of them, having fun, living green, and making the most out of what the universe has to offer.

The Sloth Life

Sloths are amazing creatures that can teach us a lot about life. They are a great example of how living green can help an animal species thrive.

Want more life lessons from the animal kingdom? Check out some of these great blog posts:

Life Lessons from a Tiger

Life Lessons from a Zookeeper

Lessons from a Horse

And, next time you visit a zoo, tell a sloth thank-you for all they do!

One Response

  1. This was great. I always learn so much from your posts. I knew about the algae but had no idea about the entire ecosystem living in the algae on the sloth! Nature is so amazing which is why it is so fun to be in and around it!

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