A Poopy Tragedy
Grandma Yara was 20 ft long. She stood 13 ft tall on her hind legs. She weighed 7,700 lb. That means she was as long as a mid-sized moving truck, as tall as an elephant, and as heavy as eight grand pianosi. Poop killed her and her herd, at Tanque Loma, Ecuador. But before we get to her sloth poop story and my poop story, let me introduce myself.
Olla, I’m Marcos Bradypus. I am a brown-throated three-fingered sloth (Bradypus is Greek for Slow of Foot, which I am). I live in Brazil, in the Amazonian rain forest.
Grandma Yara died at least 17,000 years ago. So, she was not really my gran. But if you go down the tree of evolution far enough, you see she and I are related. I reckon that makes her my grandma figuratively.
Anyhow, grandma, grandpa and all their babies were giant plant-eaters. They were essentially hairless. They lived in a herd, as did other giant sloths of their time.
To escape heat and insects, they spent lots of time wallowing, as hippos, rhinos, elephants, and wildebeest do nowadays.
Problem was, they were not particularly hygienic. They pooped in, wallowed in, and drank the same water. That was OK if there was plenty of water.
But when the water vaporized quickly and was not replaced, it was disastrous. Very soon you had poopy muck, rampant disease, and rapid deaths. Scientists think that’s what happened to Grandma Yara and her family & friends tens of thousands of years ago in Tanque Loma. In modern times, it did happen to a herd of hippos.
The scientists do have a few other guesses but none as reasonable. Which is most fortunate because nothing sounds just as good as Death by Poopii.
My Sloth Poop Dance
Now, a few words about my doo-doo.
First, a myth-buster. Some people say sloths die of pooping. We do not. We do poop a lot each time we go — up to a third of our weight. But that does not kill us. At least not directly.
I admit pooping is dangerous though. I must come down to the ground to go to the loo. Once off the trees, I dig a hole with my tail, doing my sloth poop dance, drop my dump in that hole, then climb back.
All this takes a while. During which I am easy prey to meat-eaters like harpy eagles, anacondas, jaguars, and ocelots. Naturally, quite a few sloths are killed while pooping. But that is different from killed by pooping, isn’t it?
Sure, the later sounds infinitely nicer. The Ultimate Release. Alas, it does not happen that way. Also, because I digest very slowly, I relieve myself only once a week.
Of course, the big question before you humans is why we come all the way down, dig holes, and then do our business. Wouldn’t it be much easier, not to mention safer, to just drop it from the top?
Frankly, I do not know. I am not stupid, as some folks say. I definitely do not confuse my arms with branches. But I’m not too smart either. At least not as smart as you humans are. I do what I do. I do not think about it.
But humans think. And Mama Nature thinks, for all of us. As per her plan, these dangerous sloth poop dance expeditions are essential for me, in an amazingly roundabout way.
The sloth moth
To understand, we start with my food, my sloth, my fur, and… they’re all connected.
I eat only leaves of trees and plants in the rain forests. These are not nourishing. Therefore, I am low on energy. I move awfully slow.
Which is good, because if you do not want to get noticed by big swift chaps who want to eat you, you do not run and jump about.
As added protection, I have algae living in my fur along with hundreds of creepy crawlies. Because I do not sweat, I do not smell bad. Instead, I smell like the forest around me. And the green algae camouflage me. Those who want to eat me cannot see me. They cannot smell me either.
Among the creepy crawlies I just mentioned are sloth moths. When I go down to poop, they get off me just long enough to lay eggs in my poop, then climb back on, and I climb up.
Later, the eggs hatch. Larvae came out. They feed on poop. They become adult moths. Then, they wait for me to come back to poop at the same spot. Or for some other sloth to do it where I did.
When either of those happen, they climb into sloth fur, their forever home.
As I said, algae and moths camouflage me, ensuring I am hidden to sight and smell. That’s what’s in it for me.
What is in it for the moths? They cannot exist without me. I give them a home and supply them food. The sloth moth has a snout, rather than a jaw, which it uses to suck moisture from my eyes and secretions from my skin.
And what is in it for the algae? They get nutrition from dead moths. More moths mean more nutrition for the algae and more camouflage for me.
You see, the circle of life gets completed via my pooping on the ground. It is super fascinating, how all the bits and pieces fit to everybody’s benefit.
The three form a symbiotic relationship, where each species benefits in a separate way. The opposite is a parasitic relationship, where a species benefits by harming another.
Want to know more?
A day in nature is time well spent, especially if it’s full of exotic animal experiences at a nice place like Tanganyika Wildlife Park on the west edge of Wichita in Goddard, Kansas.
My two-fingered cousin Chewbacca (Chewy) Cholopus lives there with his girlfriend Molasses and two other sloths, Sydney and Oscar.
(Two-fingered sloths are bigger, faster, and more dangerous than us three-fingered sloths. They are usually more active at night.
Our families split 30 million years ago. Today, you humans and chimpanzees have more in common than do two-fingered and three- fingered sloths.
By the by, cholopus is Greek for lame-footed, which is plain wrong. There’s nothing wrong with their feet. Also, all sloths have two toes per feet.)
Chewy tells me guides and caretakers at the park are truly kind to animals, very friendly to guests, and deeply knowledgeable about matters scientific. You and your family are guaranteed both entertainment and enlightenment. You will come back with photos to show off, experiences to talk about, and profound questions to think through.
Look at it like this: You start with poop, but you end with zoology, fossilology, ecology, and all the others. A good bargain, what?
All this yakking with you has made me awfully tired. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll hang up and hang upside down for a few hours. It was nice talking to you, even if it was mostly about poop.
Meet sloths at Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, KS.
Enter their enclosure to feed, touch, learn about, and take photos of its four sloths: friendly two-fingered male Chewbacca aka Chewie, his girlfriend Molasses, Sydney, and Oscar.
- Minimum age 3
- Max: 6 persons; min: 2
- Guests under 16 must go along with a paying adult
- Please prepare for humid conditions during this experience
- You will enjoy your sloth experience doubly if you read a bit about these fascinating animals before or after your visit. Sloth Conservation Foundation is an excellent place to start. Their free resources range from downloadable children’s books to academic articles.
Do good too. All proceeds from your visits go to Tanganyika Wildlife Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that educates about endangered exotic animals and helps protect them. At Tanganyika Wildlife Park and globally.