Sloths like it hot: ambient temperature modulates food intake in the brown-throated sloth (Bradypus variegatus)

PeerJ. 2015 Apr 2;3:e875. doi: 10.7717/peerj.875. eCollection 2015.


Sloths are considered to have one of the lowest mass-specific metabolic rates of any mammal and, in tandem with a slow digestive rate, have been theorized to have correspondingly low rates of ingestion. Here, we show in a study conducted over five months, that three captive Bradypus variegatus (Brown-throated sloths) had a remarkably low mean food intake of 17 g kg(-1)day(-1) (SD 4.2). Food consumption was significantly affected by ambient temperature, with increased intake at higher temperatures. We suggest that the known fluctuation of sloth core body temperature with ambient temperature affects the rate at which gut fauna process digesta, allowing for increased rates of fermentation at higher temperatures. Since Bradypus sloths maintain a constantly full stomach, faster rates of fermentation should enhance digestive throughput, increasing the capacity for higher levels of food intake, thereby allowing increased energy acquisition at higher ambient temperatures. This contrasts with other mammals, which tend to show increased levels of food intake in colder conditions, and points to the importance of temperature in regulating all aspects of energy use in sloths.

Keywords: Bradypus; Digestion; Metabolism; Sloth; Thermoregulation.

Grant support

This research was funded by Swansea University and the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.