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Two-toed Sloths (Choloepus spp.) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Two-toed Sloths (Choloepus spp.)


  • Folivores or generalized herbivores — will eat leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, and occasionally rodents, and insects
  • Favorite trees (*indicates species favored by all species)
    • Dipteryx panamensis*
    • Sapium caudatum
    • Terminalia amazonica
    • Spondius nigrescens
    • Trattinickia aspera
    • Chrysophyllum panamensis
    • Anacardium excelsium* 


  • Feed only at night
  • Eat in every position. Pull a leafy branch to mouth, break it off and then hold stem between palm and claw, turning and pushing the stem forward to eat the leaves
  • Large thick tongue, densely covered with sharp, minute, backward-directed spines
  • Slow metabolic rate means they can survive on a small amount of nourishment. They are quite light weight for a mammal their size, which is helpful when harvesting leaves from long, thin branches.
  • Seldom drink. Moisture is obtained from plant matter and dew on leaves
  • Metabolic rate is only about 40 to 60% of that of other mammals this size (Gilmore 2000)
  • Food has low energy content — may contain poisonous compounds that require low rate of absorption for detoxification
  • Digestion occurs in a large 4-chambered stomach (like ruminants) but unlike ruminants who possess long intestines, the sloth intestine is short (even shorter than in carnivores)
    • Bacteria hydrolyze the plant cellulose
    • Digestion slows in lower temperatures — increased mortality has been observed in cold, rainy months (Sunquist & Montgomery)
  • Passage of food through gut takes 6-21 days. (Usually takes hours for other herbivores); process is similar in tortoise (Parra 1978)
  • Young leaves digested at highest rates. Only mature leaves of certain species can be digested quickly enough to avoid starvation
  • Due to its slow metabolism and high-cellulose diet, defecation and urination occur only once a week. Descends to ground to deposit mass of fecal pellets and urinate (occur simultaneously)
  • Weight loss due to elimination has exceeded 30% of body weight but this is exceptional

Biting with Few Teeth

Sloth at San Diego Zoo eats apple

This sloth at the San Diego Zoo is using two large, blade-like front teeth to bite an apple.

Two-toed sloth only have 18 teeth—10 on top and 8 on bottom.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Gilmore (2000)
Goffart (1971)
Parra (1978)
Sunquist and Montgomery (1978)

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