Sloths are usually depicted as cute, fuzzy animals that spend lazy days lounging around trees eating leaves. But, according to this paper, those cuddly sloths have a dark side: some of them like to climb into latrines and scarf the slurry of human waste found inside. “The first observation of the unusual feeding habit took place on 3 November 2001. At around 2000 h, a sloth was detected hanging underneath the wooden bars of our 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.” The authors speculate about why these animals would choose to consume decaying poop in lieu of fresh green leaves (Extra vitamins and salts? Protein from the larvae crawling around in the latrine?). Unfortunately (and unsatisfyingly), no conclusion is reached — this is only a short observational report, not a full research study. But perhaps some sloth-related mysteries are better left unexamined…
“Sloths are arboreal Neotropical folivores, feeding selectively on the leaves from a small number of woody plant species (Montgomery and Sunquist, 1978; Queiroz, 1995; Chiarello, 1998; Urbani and Bosque, 2007). They possess a large multilocular stomach where bacterial breakdown of structural carbohydrates and probably detoxification of secondary plant compounds take place (Goffart, 1971; Eisenberg, 1981; Langer, 1988; Foley et al., 1995). Sloths descend to the forest floor only for defecation (in intervals of 3-7 days) or to change trees (Montgomery and Sunquist, 1978; Eisenberg and Maliniak, 1985; Adam, 1999).
In this paper, we report an unusual feeding habit by two-toed sloths, Choloepus didactylus, observed at the Estacio´n Biolo´ gica Quebrada Blanco (EBQB). This field research site is located at 4121’S 73109’W in the Amazon rainforest of north-eastern Peru. The habitat is terra firme forest on flat and undulating terrain, with swampy areas along creeks. Researchers and field assistants are almost continuously present at EBQB since March 1997.
The first observation of the unusual feeding habit took place on 3 November 2001. At around 2000 h, a sloth was detected hanging underneath the wooden bars of our 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. When more persons gathered around the latrine to watch this bizarre behaviour, the sloth emerged from the latrine and climbed into the nearest tree. Since this first observation, we obtained more than 25 additional records of sloths visiting and feeding in the latrine until 2007 when the latrine was fenced with wire mesh. These records include single individuals as well as mothers with a baby (Figs. 1–3). When the animals emerged from the latrine, they were usually completely moistened. All observations took place when it was dark, which is in line with the nocturnal activity pattern of two-toed sloths (Sunquist and Montgomery, 1973), and many when it was wet or rainy.”
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