I really like sloths, but one of their recently discovered habits might make me like them a little bit less…
As recently reported by Eckhard Heymann and colleagues, Linnaeus’s two-toed sloths Choloepus didactylus at the Estación Biológica Quebrada Blanco in north-eastern Peru have developed the delightful habit of climbing into an outdoor latrine building, seeking out the latrine contents AND EATING THEM (Heymann et al. 2010).
The behaviour was first reported in November 2001 when a sloth was discovered hanging from the wooden bars within the latrine. “It was scooping with one hand from the semi-liquid manure composed of faeces, urine and toilet paper and then eating from the hand” (Heymann et al. 2010, p. 1 of preprint). This wasn’t a one-off. More than 25 additional reports of sloths visiting and feeding in the latrine were made, and in fact the behaviour only stopped in 2007 when wire mesh was erected around the building. Good photos were taken, and two are reproduced here. The photo below shows a mother and baby emerging from the latrine [from Heymann et al. (2010); photos by M. Stojan-Dolar].
Why would a sloth want to climb into a latrine and eat human, errr, waste material? Heymann et al. (2010) make a few suggestions. Were the sloths interested in the faeces for nutritional reasons? Were they drinking the urine because they required the salt? Or were they interested in the insect larvae that were present? We don’t know: at the moment the reason for this behaviour is totally enigmatic. Indeed it’s possible that this behaviour will turn out to be widespread. After all, sloths live close to people in many places. Heymann et al. (2010) further speculate that sloths could act as vectors of human diseases and parasites as a result of these latrine visits.
Depending on your perspective, sloths might just have become even more interesting than they already are…. or, they might have become a lot less cute, and a lot more disgusting. Having thought about it, I’m actually not that bothered, and I still think sloths are neat and fascinating. But I think I might avoid touching them, cuddling them, or sniffing them from now on.
Thanks (again) to Glyn Young for the heads-up Back to gekkotans next.
For previous Tet Zoo stuff on sloths see…
And for other xenarthrans see…
- Five things you didn’t know about armadillos
- What was that skull? (on glyptodonts)
- I, Priodontes, the tatuasu
- The anteater that wasn’t
Refs – –
Heymann, E. W., Flores Amasifuén, C., Shahuano Tello, N., Tirado Herrera, E. T. & Stojan-Dolar, M. 2010. Disgusting appetite: Two-toed sloths feeding in human latrines. Mammalian Biology doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2010.03.003