Choloepus hoffmanniHoffmann's two-toed sloth

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Geographic Range

Choloepus hoffmanni (Hoffman’s two-toed sloth) is a native South American mammal whose distribution also reaches Central America. The distribution extends from southern Nicaragua to Brazil and Bolivia and is composed of two disjunct populations. The northern population extends from Central America to northern and western Colombia, western Ecuador, and westernmost Venezuela. The southern population spans the area east of the Andes in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and western Brazil. The two species of Choloepus (Choloepus hoffmanni and Choloepus didactylus) overlap partially in the Andean regions and western Amazonia. ("Two-toed Sloth, Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni ", 2009; Gardner, 2007; Gilmore, et al., 2001; Macdonald, 2006)

Habitat

Hoffman’s two-toed sloths inhabit lowland forests as well as higher altitude rain forests. Habitat is limited primarily to areas of continuous canopy. Habitat selection is correlated with social inheritance of the mother’s home range and tree preference. Plant composition and availability change seasonally and also play a role in habitat selection. In areas where Hoffman’s two-toed sloths coexist with three-toed sloths (Bradypus species), it is less abundant. Southern two-toed sloths inhabit similar habitats to those of C. hoffmanni, but they seldom coexist and thus mostly occupy exclusive geographical ranges. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Macdonald, 2006; Vizcaíno and Loughry, 2008)

  • Range elevation
    26 to 171 m
    85.30 to 561.02 ft

Physical Description

Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are one of two species in the genus Choloepus. Species in this genus are easily identified by the presence of two claws on the forelimb. The other extant genus of sloths, three-toed sloths Bradypus, have three claws on the forelimb. Hoffman’s two-toed sloths have head and body lengths ranging from 58 to 70 cm, mass varies from 4 to 8 kg. (Macdonald, 2006; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Males and females are monomorphic. Hoffman’s two-toed sloths have rounded heads and flattened faces. The small snout is naked and protrudes from the flattened face. Ears are round and thickened, almost always covered with hair. The coloration of body hair in adults is a mosaic of tan, blonde, and light brown. Shading of the hair over the head and back is often darker than the rest of the body. A good way to distinguish C. hoffmanni from C. didactylus is that the former lacks dark shoulder and forearm markings. The hair of C. hoffmanni can grow up to 15 cm. Hair covering the abdominal region grows from the midline laterally so that the hair is parted. This serves as an efficient means to expel run-off water since sloths spend the majority of their time hanging upside down. Sloths have two coats, a softer inner coat and an outer coat that is longer and coarser in texture. During dry seasons the coat appears brown. In times of abundant rainfall, the outermost coat takes up a green hue due to the growth of algae. The fur coat also assists in insulating the sloth. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Macdonald, 2006)

The forelimbs are slightly longer than the hind limbs. The manus and pes are highly modified in C. hoffmanni. Functional digits are reduced to numbers II and III in the manus and II, III, and IV in the pes. Digits of the manus are syndactylous. The distalmost phalanges are curved and possess claws that extend 8 to 10 cm. Soles of the manus and pes are bare and equipped with thick-skinned glabrous pads. The tail is absent or vestigial. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

One of the most constant mammalian morphological characteristics is the presence of seven cervical vertebrae. Only three genera are known to be an exception to this constant, Choloepus, Bradypus, and Trichechus. The number can differ from individual to individual but it varies in Choloepus hoffmanni from 5 to 8 cervical vertebrae. Shortening of the neck (fewer than 7 cervical vertebrae) in conjunction with thick musculature around the neck region and a robust clavicle provide the rigidity that is needed to support the head while inverted. (Buchholtz and Stepien, 2009; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

There are five upper and four lower teeth in each quadrant for a total of 18 teeth. Choloepus hoffmanni lacks deciduous teeth and, instead, has ever-growing or hypseledont teeth. The teeth lack enamel, instead they possess a harder layer of dentin which surrounds an inner softer layer of dentin. Teeth erupt as simple conical structures and over time wear into caniniform and molariform teeth. This process is termed thegosis. The softer dentin center is worn away more quickly than the harder outer dentin layer during occlusion. This in turn forms a basin in the center of molariform teeth with a sharper outer layer. In adults, the anterior teeth are caniniform and are separated from the homodont, molariform cheek teeth by a diastema. These anterior maxillary caniniform teeth occlude with the posterior surfaces of the mandibular caniniforms. This occlusion forms unique triangular beveled caniniforms, characteristic of Choloepus hoffmanni. In the cheek teeth, each mandibular tooth occludes anterior to the corresponding maxillary tooth by an interval of half a tooth length. Other cranial osteological landmarks include an incomplete zygomatic arch, of which the jugal has two processes (lower and upper); inflated pterygoid region forming sinuses; open tympanic ring supporting the tympanic membrane; and a crescent-shaped glenoid fossa. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Mendel, 1981; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    4 to 8 kg
    8.81 to 17.62 lb
  • Range length
    58 to 70 cm
    22.83 to 27.56 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    45 cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    3.891 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Males advertise their presence by distributing pungent smelling anal secretions onto branches. This is thought to serve as a way to designate a meeting place between females and males. The female may also advertise that she is ready to mate by exerting a high-pitched scream. In response, interested males will move towards the female. If two males arrive at the same time, confrontation can occur. Confrontation between males is an upside down event. They grasp a branch with their hind limbs and swing with one or both forelimbs at each other until one of them gives up. The male that remains will mate with the female numerous times and then leave her on her own. Reproduction in C. hoffmanni also occurs in a hanging position. ("Two-toed Sloth, Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni ", 2009; Taube, et al., 2001)

Breeding in Hoffman's two-toed sloths is seasonal. Pregnancy occurs during the rainy season and births at the beginning of the dry season. The gestation period is about 11.5 months and usually yields a single offspring. Newborns are about 25.4 cm long and weigh approximately 12 ounces. Offspring are born with claws, which are used to cling onto the mother soon after birth. The mother carries her young for 6 to 9 months, thereafter the offspring is independent. It has been reported that young are able to consume solid food as soon as 2 to 5 weeks. Nursing may stop as soon as the end of the first month. Sexual maturity in Choloepus hoffmanni is reached at about the age of 3 in females and 4 to 5 years in males. The inter-birth interval lasts at a minimum 15 months. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Taube, et al., 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Interbirth
  • Breeding season
    During the rainy season
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    11.5 months
  • Average gestation period
    350 days
    AnAge
  • Average weaning age
    1 months
  • Range time to independence
    6 to 9 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    730 days
    AnAge
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 years

Males typically lack interest following birth of offspring and are not involved in their upbringing. Females are the sole source of parental care following birth until independence. Newborns are partially precocial, although do depend on the mother for a short time. The mother carries her young wherever she goes, providing milk in the first month and solid food thereafter. While young are carried around by their mothers, they learn where and what types of leaves are best to eat. As a result of this, familial selectivity of tree types has been reported. Independence is usually acheived by 6 to 9 months. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Taube, et al., 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory

Lifespan/Longevity

Longevity in the wild is 12 years and in captivity 31 years. Mortality in the wild can be due to age, death by natural predation, hunting by humans for bushmeat, and loss of habitat due to deforestation. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; McKenzie, et al., 2005)

Behavior

As arboreal mammals, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths eat, sleep, mate, and give birth suspended from tree limbs. Individuals of Choloepus hoffmanni are primarily solitary. The only instances when interactions between members have been observed are during mating or in typical mother-infant interaction. Groups inhabit a single tree at any one time. It is rare that C. hoffmanni individuals leave the general area of their birth during their lifetime. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Taube, et al., 2001)

Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are nocturnal herbivores. Activity usually begins about an hour after sunset and ceases by sunrise. During the day their location is mostly at mid-canopy and evening hours are marked by movement towards the upper canopy. They traverse tree tops in a hand-over-hand motion, traveling no more than 36.58 m in any one day. Length traveled by each step averages 30 cm. Locomotion characteristics of C. hoffmanni includes climbing, crawling, and hanging. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; McKenzie, et al., 2005; Mendel, 1981)

Body temperature fluctuates with the temperature of the environment. Hoffman’s two-toed sloths maintain a low body temperature of 24 to 33˚ C. They are unable to shiver to keep warm due to their low metabolic rate and decreased muscle mass. Although their fur offers some means of insulation, they further regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of the sun. ("Two-toed Sloth, Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni ", 2009; Gilmore, et al., 2001; Nowak, 1999)

Although strictly arboreal, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths make their way to the base of trees once a week in order to defecate. This is usually done at habitual defecation sites. Other instances in which they travel to the ground are to change tree location and, on rare occasions, to give birth and mate. In order to make it to the ground, they descend head first. Once on the ground they use crawling locomotion. If forced to defend themselves, they use their sharp claws or sharp caniniform teeth. In periods of stress or to demonstrate aggressive behavior, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths may take on a pop-eyed appearance. They are capable of partially retracting the eyes when the eyelids are closed tightly, manifesting the pop-eyed appearance. ("Two-toed Sloth, Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni ", 2009; Gilmore, et al., 2001; Mendel, 1981)

Home Range

Home range sizes of Hoffman’s two-toed sloths range from 2 to 3 ha. (Eisenberg and Redford, 2005)

Communication and Perception

There is a limited information on communication and behavior. This lack of knowledge is largely due to their nocturnal, arboreal, and solitary lifestyle. Their sense of olfaction is well developed, evident by the use of scent marking by males. Males scent mark on tree branches via glands surrounding the anus. The purpose of scent marking is to establish a meeting place with the females so that mating can occur. The female may also vocalize via a high-pitched scream to advertise to males she is ready to mate. These sloths are generally silent but have been known to hiss in times of high stress or when agitated. Separation of an infant from its mother will elicit a loud low-pitched distress call ranging from 30 to 90 seconds. Tactile communication has been observed in the form of grooming between infant and mother. This is a mutual behavior and involves licking the head, face, and anogenital region. ("Two-toed Sloth, Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni ", 2009; McKenzie, et al., 2005; Taube, et al., 2001)

Food Habits

Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are primarily folivores. Their diet consists of leaves, buds, tender twigs, young plant shoots, fruits, and flowers. They use their anterior caniform teeth to pierce, crop, and slice food and process it with the posterior molariform teeth. Daily food consumption in adults averages 0.35 kg. Digestion rate of leaves is the slowest of all herbivorous mammals, with a passing rate of about two and a half days. They have four-chambered stomachs, much like ruminants, which house bacteria capable of digesting the rich amount of cellulose present in their diets. Their slow metabolic rate allows them to survive on a small amount of nourishment as well as to neutralize plant toxins due to long gut passage times. Basal metabolic rate is about 45 kJ. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Macdonald, 2006)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • fruit
  • flowers
  • algae

Predation

As strictly arboreal mammals that move little and are cryptically colored, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are relatively protected from predation. Their predators are are large, arboreal or avian predators, especially harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja). Other predators include jaguars, ocelots, other arboreal cats, and large snakes, such as anacondas. (Gilmore, et al., 2001; Nowak, 1999)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Hoffman’s two-toed sloths host a variety of organisms, including gastrointestinal parasites, ectoparasites, and commensal arthropods (mosquitoes, sand flies, triatomine bugs, lice, ticks, and mites). Algae grows on the fur of C. hoffmanni, a mutual commensalism. The algae obtain a protected habitat growing inside the hair and the sloth becomes camouflaged alongside the foliage. The algae take up residence in the longitudinal grooves of the pelage. The algae, in addition to providing camouflage, may also contribute nutritional or trace element value to the sloths. Hoffman’s two-toed sloths also provide trees with fertilizer by defecating (accounting for 30% of their body weight) at the base of trees. (Gilmore, et al., 2001)

Species Used as Host
Mutualist Species
  • algae
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • mosquitoes (Culicidae)
  • sand flies (Phlebotominae)
  • triatomine or bed bugs (Cimicidae)
  • lice (Mallophaga)
  • ticks and mites (Acari)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Choloepus hoffmanni is considered a flagship species and plays a role in ecotourism. (McKenzie, et al., 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no negative effects of Choloepus hoffmani on humans. (Sibaja-Morales, et al., 2009)

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, the status of Choloepus hoffmanni is of least concern due to their large distribution, large population sizes, and ability to inhabit somewhat disturbed areas. (IUCN, 2009)

Several factors that serve as potential population limiting factors of Choloepus hoffmanni include deforestation, agricultural activity, illegal trafficking, and an increase in human settlements. In addition, local communities bordering the habitats of Choloepus hoffmanni have been known to take these sloths up as pets. In efforts to combat the negative consequences due to human impingement several rescue and rehabilitation centers have been built to assist those animals that are injured. Although there are obvious negative consequences of habitat removal for animals as a whole, it has been hypothesized that C. hoffmanni might benefit from forest fragmentation which create edge habitats. (Sibaja-Morales, et al., 2009; Lopes and Ferrari, 2000; McKenzie, et al., 2005; Moreno and Plese, 2006)

Other Comments

Choloepus is the only living genus of the family Megalonychidae. Fossil evidence shows that this family was once a much more diverse group and included many species of ground sloths. A Pleistocene megalonychid genus, Megalonyx, was widely distributed in North America and was notable for its very large size.

Unlike Bradypus species, Choloepus species easily adapt and breed in captivity.

Choloepus hoffmanni exhibits karyotypic variation, 2n = 49 to 54. (Nowak, 1999; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Contributors

Vicky Apostolopoulos (author), Case Western Reserve University, Darin Croft (editor, instructor), Case Western Reserve University, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

2009. "Two-toed Sloth, Choloepus didactylus & Choloepus hoffmanni " (On-line). Fact Sheets- San Diego Zoo Library. Accessed November 03, 2009 at http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/sloth/sloth.htm#behavior.

Buchholtz, E., C. Stepien. 2009. Anatomical transformation in mammals: developmental origin of aberrant cervical anatomy in tree sloths. Evolution & Development, 11:1: 69-79.

Eisenberg, J., K. Redford. 2005. Mammals of the Neotropics. London: University Of Chicago Press.

Gardner, A. 2007. Mammals of South America. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Gilmore, D., C. Da Costa, D. Duarte. 2001. Sloth biology: an update on their physiological ecology, behavior and role as vectors of arthropods and arboviruses. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 34:1: 9-25.

IUCN, 2009. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed November 25, 2009 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Lopes, M., S. Ferrari. 2000. Effects of Human Colonization on the Abundance and Diversity of Mammals in Eastern Brazilian Amazonia. Conservation Biology, 14(6): 1658-1665.

Macdonald, D. 2006. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

McKenzie, A., G. Ernst, Z. Taranu. 2005. "Behavioural Studies and Rehabilitation of Sloths in Parque Natural Metropolitano " (On-line pdf). Accessed November 05, 2009 at http://www.mcgill.ca/files/pfss/Sloths_Report.pdf.

Mendel, F. 1981. Use of Hands and Feet of Two-Toed Sloths (Choloepus hoffmanni) during Climbing and Terrestrial Locomotion. Journal of Mammalogy, 62(2): 413-421.

Moreno, S., T. Plese. 2006. The Illegal Traffic in Sloths and Threats to Their Survival in Colombia. Edentata, 7: 10-17.

Naples, V. 1982. Cranial Osteology and Function in the Tree Sloths, Bradypus and Choloepus . American Museum of Natural History, 2739: 1-41.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Sibaja-Morales, K., J. Oliveria, A. Jimenez Rocha, J. Hernandez Gamboa, J. Prendas Gamboa, F. Arroyo Murillo, J. Sandi, Y. Nunez, M. Baldi. 2009. GASTROINTESTINAL PARASITES AND ECTOPARASITES OF BRADYPUS BARIEGATUS AND CHOLOEPUS HOFFMANNI SLOTHS IN CAPTIVITY FROM COSTA RICA. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 40(1): 86-90.

Taube, E., J. Keravec, J. Vie, J. Duplantier. 2001. Reproductive biology and postnatal development in sloths, Bradypus and Choloepus: reveiw with original data from the field (French Guiana) and from captivity. Mammal Review, 31: 173-188.

Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. United States: Thomson Learning.

Vizcaíno, S., W. Loughry. 2008. The Biology of the Xenarthra. Gainsville, Florida: The University Press of Florida.