Are Sloths Dangerous?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: February 3, 2022
© jdross75/Shutterstock.com
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Even though they appear cute and cuddly, a sloth’s teeth and strong claw-like nails serve as a constant reminder of the damage they can cause. The average sloth can grow to a height of 2.5 feet and weigh anywhere from 9 to 17 pounds. Yet, despite their small stature and slow nature, sloths can inflict significant injury if provoked. Find out how dangerous sloths can be by reading on further.

Are Sloths Dangerous?

sloth hanging in a tree
When left alone, sloths are not dangerous by any means, but when threatened, they can inflict pain.

©iStock.com/Parkol

If sloths are left alone in their natural environment, they pose no threat to humans. If they feel threatened, they can use their long nails or teeth to inflict pain. When sloths grow agitated, they could potentially attack anyone who tries to interact with them. Whether it’s another sloth, a predator, or even a friendly human. Sloth bites are deep, nasty, and can get infected quickly.

Diseases that can be transferred to humans are found in most sloths. Insects that can transmit diseases to people, such as mosquitos, are carried in their fur.

Is It Dangerous To Touch A Sloth?

Interesting animals – sloth
It is best not to handle or touch a sloth as they are highly sensitive creatures.

©Janossy Gergely/Shutterstock.com

Sloths are extremely sensitive creatures. Because sloths are highly scented animals, touching them can be dangerous. They can become agitated because of lotions and perfumes worn by others, loud noises, or inappropriate handling.

Do Sloths Have Claws Or Nails?

Dumbest Animals in the World: Sloth
Sloths have strong, long nails they use to grip and hang from trees.

©iStock.com/Nachosuch

To help them grip onto trees, sloths have lengthy nails that resemble claws. They enjoy hanging upside down, and their nails readily wrap around the branches when they do so. The sloths of today are a little less frightening. They have coarse brown fur, lengthy limbs, and curled claws for clinging to tree branches due to their adaption to living upside down.

Do Sloths Have Teeth?

Weakest animals sloth
Though sloths lack incisor canine teeth, they have two pairs of prominent razor-sharp fangs called “pseudo-canines”

©milan noga/Shutterstock.com

They don’t have deciduous teeth; instead, they have a single set of high-crowned, open-rooted teeth that develop constantly throughout their lives. Sloths only have ten upper and eight lower teeth. A sloth’s two front teeth, which they use to bite off their meal, are the most visible. Their other teeth are flat, and they utilize them to grind their meal, which is tree leaves.

Because they are the world’s slowest animals and cannot easily flee a predator, they fight with their keen teeth and nails. Sloths, unlike most animals, lack a protective layer of enamel on their teeth, making tannins more easily absorbed. Tannins are biomolecules that are responsible for the brown color of dead leaves. A sloth’s fangs can turn black due to the substantial number of tannins in its mouth.

Are Sloths Aggressive?

A young Sloth.
Two-toed sloths are known to be more aggressive than three-toed sloths.

©Sylvia Westenbroek / Flickr

Two-toed sloths are known to be aggressive and capable of causing severe damage with their nails. These sloths have two toes on their forelimbs, while three-toed sloths have three. Three-toed sloths have more vertebrae than two-toed sloths. They have various families and species counts. Three-toed sloths are a little more laid-back, but they still don’t like it when humans touch them.

Are Sloths Friendly?

Sloth in a tree
Sloths are anti-social creatures who are happiest on their own.

©Julia Kerschbaum / Creative Commons

While sloths are known for their chill personalities, they are not social animals. They live alone in the wild and try not to attract the attention of other animals to avoid predators. Because sloths are solitary, they aren’t used to being touched and can find even light petting threatening.

Can A Sloth Be A House Pet?

Sloth on a branch
Due to their their solitary and wild nature, sloths do not make good pets.

©Ontley / Creative Commons

Domesticated sloths can live longer than wild sloths, although they can be expensive and require specific training and/or licenses in some locations. On the other hand, the disadvantages of having a pet sloth are large enough to dissuade most people from doing so. In the wild, two-toed sloths can live up to 20 years.

How Fast Does A Sloth Move?

A Sloth at Dallas World Aquarium, USA
At its fastest, the sloth moves a mere 0.17mph!

©SergioDelgado / Creative Commons

A sloth’s maximum speed, when threatened, is only 0.17 mph. To put this into perspective, crawling a mile would take them more than nine and a half hours. However, they would never manage this as they can only cover about 120 feet in a day on average. Even though they are slow on land, they can swim three times as fast in the water.

Attacking someone or something would be difficult because the sloth moves slowly on the ground, dragging itself along by its claws at a snail’s speed of fifteen yards per minute. Although a sloth assault is rare until provoked, they can be easily attacked.

What Do Sloths Eat?

sloth eating a leaf
Sloths eat leaves, flowers, and tree twigs.

©Damsea/Shutterstock.com

Sloths eat leaves, twigs, and flower buds. Because they lack incisors, the animals grip down with their strong lips together to bare down leaves. It takes them days to digest what other animals may digest in a couple of hours. Sloths have a slow metabolic rate so they can survive on little food.


The Featured Image

Animals in Movies
All ground sloths in this film and its successors were designed with traits of both prehistoric ground sloths and modern tree sloths.
© jdross75/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Why Do Sloths Hang Upside Down?

To get to tender fresh leaves that sprout on the end of branches, a sloth must hang upside down. Newer leaves have fewer toxins and are therefore easier for the sloth to consume. They even sleep upside down because of their unusual, hooked claws. You’d be hard-pressed to discover a sloth sleeping on the ground because they’re significantly more vulnerable to predators when they’re spotted.

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