• Ben M.

HANGING AROUND IN COSTA RICA

Updated: Sep 20

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Tapirs, ocelots, and caimans; the Harpy eagle, the Peregrine falcon, and even the Resplendent Quetzal. Also the White-faced capuchin, the Peccary, and the Three-toed sloth. Costa Rica is bursting with stunning wildlife; in fact this nation teeming with biota is home to more than 500,000 animal and plant species. Costa Rica offers 32 national parks and 51 wildlife refuges. It also holds 13 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves. The country offers a montage of landscapes, which contain a splendid array of flora and fauna. The lush topography is built upon volcanoes, cloud forests, idyllic beaches, and thriving rainforests.


Much of the wildlife found in this magnificent country make their habitat in the rainforest and the cloud forests (the two are mainly separated by elevation). One of the most popular animals to live in the rainforest is the sloth. They are so admired in fact, that they appear on the 10,000 note of the Costa Rican Colones. They are not currently endangered in Costa Rica but do risk extinction in Brazil and Panama. Sloths are known to be some of the cutest, funniest, and laziest animals to exist. Their inexorable slowness is their trademark, but many people wonder, why are sloths so slow?


First, I’ve been situated in Costa Rica for about nine days and in the volcano friendly town of La Fortuna about a week. Across the street from this hostel, is the Bogarin sloth trail. You can pay 6000 Colones or $10.00 USD to have all day access. While walking the trail on two occasions, I viewed black vultures, macaws, a single coati, thousands of hard working ants, and yes, a multitude of sloths. The coati scrambled away when he saw us, so I only got a glimpse of his backside and tail. The sloths are comical to watch as they make miniscule movements to go up a tree or simply get a bite to eat.


In order to understand a sloth’s lethargic nature, we must examine their evolution. Sloths belong to the superorder Xenarthra, which is believed to have evolved about 60 million years ago in South America. This order makes them related to the armadillo and the anteater. The common ancestor to the Three-toed sloth and the Two-toed sloth is believed to have originated about 28 million years ago. Eventually, there were sloths that lived around 11,000 years ago during the ice age. These sloths weighed up to a couple tons, so not like the adorable creatures of today. The giant sloths of the prehistoric period ate from trees by standing on their back legs, and this diet continues today. A leaf diet is very low in calories and lacks many nutrients. This causes a very low metabolic rate due to the effect of a low energy diet.


It can take a sloth 2 weeks to a month to digest a meal of leaves. The indolence of the sloth also carries over to the basic bodily function of relieving themselves. The sloth typically evacuates waste once every 5-7 days and can lose up to one third of their body weight. Many arboreal animals defecate from the trees, but the sloth comes all the way down to the bottom of the tree. This forces them to expend a great amount of energy and also creates a great, mortal danger. Fifty percent of all adult sloths die during their time on the ground, as there are numerous predators to include jungle cats (jaguars, ocelots, cougars) and birds of prey (Harpy eagle).


The typical sloth is not a quality prey, even though there are predators. They have long claw like toes, and their coat is ripe with bugs. The sloth fur maintains a micro eco-system which means that there are colonies of fungi, moth, mites, and algae. This ecosystem creates a green tinge to their fur and helps to disguise them in the treetops. While they are not at risk in Costa Rica, they deforestation of places like Brazil is a major hazard.

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