Ever heard of the Sloth?
These arboreal, tree hugging mammals got their name from their mottled and pest ridden fur, and their excruciatingly slow movement that suggest they are dirty and lazy by nature, but if we take a closer look we see much more than the unfortunate name of sloth would suggest.
For starters, the Sloth is believed to have existed for about 60 million years, almost 24 times longer than Homo Sapiens, given the current understanding of our own evolution. Just like the human race they are considered to be somewhat of an oddity in the animal kingdom, and in a manner of speaking the Sloth seem to share many habits with ourselves.
Sloths prefer to set up a permanent home, and may live their entire life in one tree. These solitary animals prefer to spend their life hanging from from branch to branch in search of green leaves and buds that form the staple of their diet. Just like humans, the Sloth find themselves at the top of their very own and unique branch of the food chain. Protected by their lofty position in tree tops as well as the camouflage of leafy shade, they keep hidden from the rest of the world by a combination of circumstance and lack of movement.
Besides humans, they are probably the only known species that crap on their own porch, a risky practice that come with a high fatality rate. Once a week they climb down to the same piece of ground below their tree, make a hole in the ground, take a dump, and then carefully cover the excrement after they are finished. It is during these times of ablution that the Sloth become easy prey, risking life and limb to perform the ritual burial of . Just like we find in the human race, it is an example of instinctive behaviour that persist even though it seems to be a negative evolutionary trait.
But then, as we often find in nature, similar does not mean same. Contrary to the human race, these ancient and peaceful beasts exhibit various complex symbiotic systems that are inextricably part of their existence. From their furry coats, right down to their diet of leaves and their curious excretion habits. The fur of a sloth host two species of symbiotic cyanobacteria, which provide additional camouflage. And because of the cyanobacteria, sloth fur is a small ecosystem of its own, hosting many species of non-parasitic insects.
The diet of leaves provide the Sloth with very little energy or nutrition as they do not digest easily. Sloths therefore have very large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. As much as two-thirds of a well-fed sloth's body-weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take a month or more to complete. Sloths deal with this by a range of economy measures: they have very low metabolic rates (less than half of that expected for a mammal of their size), and maintain low body temperatures when active (30 °C (86 °F) to 34 °C (93 °F)), and still lower temperatures when resting.
With all these fascinating facts about the Sloth I cannot help but wonder if perhaps we are wrong about the nature of sloth, and since it is only recent that we have invented a tool to observe the working brain we may well find that like the Sloth, the sin that shares in its name is nothing at all what we think.