The Brown-Throated Sloth: Species Facts & Characteristics

brown throated sloth illustration

With three toes on each foot, the brown-throated sloth, also known as Bradypus variegatus, is an incredibly unique animal. This species lives in rainforest canopies located in Central and South America. Sloths are famous for their low energy, which is mostly due to poor nutrition and low-calorie consumption. 

To learn more about this fascinating South American mammal, keep reading.


The brown-throated sloth exists in many countries around the world. These sloths usually reside in either a tropical rainforest or subtropical lowland swamps. 

Sloths do not require much from their habitats to survive other than trees, water, and a source of nutrition. These habitats can range anywhere from sea level to 2400 meters above sea level. 

Aside from the trees, sloths usually reside in and around water. It is common for a sloth to swim as it can be beneficial in many ways. However, this can pose new and dangerous obstacles for the slow moving mammal.

Local Predators

Since the sloth lives in such diverse habitats, there are many possible threats, including predators. There are three main predators of the brown-throated sloth. Two of the predators are birds, the spectacled owl and harpy eagles. The third potential threat is felids or big cats. 


Brown-throated sloths are strictly herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. Specifically, they eat the leaves, flowers, and fruits of trees. 

Since sloths do not move around much, they do not drink water. Instead, they consume most of their water through other plant materials. 

Trees and Harmful Toxins

Most of the vegetation a sloth will eat is thick, rubbery, rainforest leaves. Their diet consists of mostly harmful toxins. 

Sloths have a multi-chambered stomach, similar to a cow, that allows them to break down these toxins. It takes almost two weeks for a sloth to digest a single meal completely. Once it has finished the meal, the sloth will leave the canopy to defecate. 

Physical Characteristics 

As mentioned in the name, brown-throated sloths have brown coloration on their neck and heads and black markings on the eyes. They have short, thick fur that often gets covered with algae. 

This algae sometimes leaves them with a greenish tint. All of these characteristics help provide the animal with camouflage to prevent others from seeing them. 

Defining Features

As a result of their strict herbivore diet, brown-throated sloths have very little muscle mass. This diet also requires sloths to have extensive digestive systems. 

Most of these adult sloths weigh an average of 7.5 pounds to 11.5 pounds. While sloths do not weigh much, they still tend to move very slowly. 

Measuring up to 60 inches, these mammals possess long limbs. At the end of each arm are three clawed toes. When climbing a tree, the sloth utilizes both of these features to move nimbly. 

As well, the sloth has nine cervical vertebrae that allow it to turn its head 270 degrees. At the top of a canopy, this wider view increases mobility significantly.


The Bradypus variegatus has a unique set of behaviors. One of these unique acts is swimming. These tree-dwelling creatures are fantastic swimmers. They will swim for food and safety, but usually, they enter the water for algae.  


Another behavior, in particular, is the use of algae. Since these mammals live in areas with bodies of water or rivers nearby, they tend to cover themselves in algae. 

These sloths likely cover themselves for two reasons. One is camouflage protection so that they can stay protected from local predators. 

The other reason for this behavior is that algae act as a secondary source of nutrition. As a result of resident algae, microorganisms and small bugs such as moths live in the sloth's fur. Sometimes, these bugs can even create a relationship with the sloth. This relationship is beneficial for both the sloth and the algae. 

Tree-Top Lifestyle

Another behavioral trait of the sloth is where and how they spend their time. A sloth spends most of its life in the trees and atop the canopy. A sloth will only come down from a tree if it absolutely must. 

However, sloth may come down from its tree is to use the bathroom, which happens about once a week. They may also come down to protect their food and territory. 

Help Brown-Throated Sloths

According to the IUCN,the brown-throated sloth is a species of least concern. However, it does not mean that sloths are safe from the threats of deforestation. 

Due to new developments, some of these animals are slowly losing their homes. Deforestation can force sloths onto the street to look for a new habitat. 

Brown-throated sloths have a unique lifestyle, appearance, and diet. That's why it is crucial to protect the brown-throated sloth, one of Earth's most fascinating species.