Pygmy three-toed sloth swimming

Date:8 November 2016 Author: Nikky Knijf Tags:, , , , ,

Did you know sloths can swim? Don’t worry, neither did we. Pictured is a pygmy three-toed sloth from a small Caribbean island called Isla Escudo de Veraguas in Panama. Sloths are said to be incredible swimmers that can move three times faster in the water than they can on land.

Also known as the monk or dwarf sloth, the pygmy three-toed sloth are truly the smallest of its kind. They measure between 48 and 53 centimetres, and weigh in between 2.5 and 3.5 kilograms. That’s 1 kilogram more than a Pomeranian!

Pygmy three-toed sloths are endemic to  Isla Escudo de Veraguas, where they are found exclusively in the red mangroves. Because of their very limited habitat pygmy three-toed sloths are listed as critically endangered. These sloths are members of the genus Bradypus, along with three other subspecies:

  • – The endangered maned three-toed sloth from southeastern Brazil,
  • – The very common pale-throated sloth from northern South America, and
  • – The very common and widespread brown-throated sloth from north, central and eastern South America.


Researchers only recently discovered the pygmy three-toed sloth. The first mention of the subspecies was in 2001 by researchers Robert P. Anderson from the University of Kansas and Charles O. Handley Jr., from the Smithsonian Institution. They noted that the pygmy three-toed sloth may have originated from the mainland’s population of brown-throated three-toed sloths, more than 10 000 years ago. Over multiple generations the sloths became an independent species through insular dwarfism – a reduction of size over a number of generations. This can be attributed to the sloth population’s limited range on the island.

The still above is from the BBC’s Planet Earth II series that premiered on 6 November in the UK. The broadcaster produced the second series after the original 2006 series’ widespread popularity. The series in separated into six episodes entitled Islands, Mountains, Jungles, Deserts, Grasslands and Cities. Each episode takes a high-definition look at some of the animals that call these places home.

Image credit: BBC

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