Depending on where you live in the world, if you were asked to name a furry creature that spends most of its life in trees, you would probably think of the sloth or koala first. After all, both of these unique animals spend a lot of time in treetops looking for food, hiding from predators, or simply sleeping the day away. Although they resemble one another at first glance, these creatures are very dissimilar. Let us show you the differences between a sloth vs koala so you can learn how to tell each animal apart.
Comparing a Sloth and a Koala
|– 0.10-0.20 mph on the ground
|– 15-20 mph in short bursts
– Climb at 0.7 mph
|Birth of Young
|– Fully developed young called cubs
– Give birth to underdeveloped young called joeys that must survive the crawl to the mother’s pouch.
|Central and South America
|– 3in-4in long
– 2 or 3 claws on their front feet depending on species
– Three claws on their back feet
|– 1-inch claws
– Each hand has 3 fingers and 2 thumbs, and each foot has 3 fingers and 1 thumb
– Plants, small lizards, fruit, insects, and more
– Eucalyptus leaves and leaves of similar trees
The Key Differences Between a Sloth vs Koala
The biggest differences between a sloth and a koala are range, size, and speed. The koala lives exclusively in Australia, but the sloth lives in many countries in Central America and South America. Koalas are bigger than sloths, too. In fact, they can stand an entire head larger than the average sloth. Also, koalas are much faster than sloths, reaching speeds of 15-20mph over short distances when the need arises.
These differences punctuate how unique these creatures are compared to one another. We’re going to look deeper at each difference and show you some others as well.
Sloth vs Koala: Size
Koalas are larger than sloths on average. Sloths will grow between 14 inches tall and 25 inches tall, and they’ll weigh about 15lbs at their maximum. However, koalas are both taller and heavier at their largest size. Koalas weigh up to 33lbs and they can grow between 24 inches tall and 30 inches tall.
Of course, sloths have longer arms than koalas, and they seem almost out of place on the sloth’s small body, but they add the illusion of greater height to the mammal. While massive sloths existed in the past, all species that exist today are relatively small.
Sloth vs Koala: Speed
Koalas are much faster than sloths. Many people attribute the speed of sloths to the koala, believing that they’re somehow related. That’s not the case. Although koalas spend a great deal of their time sleeping in the trees, they are still swift. Koalas move at speeds of 15 mph to 20mph on the ground when they feel threatened. They can also climb at a speed of 0.7 mph.
Sloths move at about 0.10 mph to 0.2 mph on the ground, meaning that the koala can climb several times faster than sloths can run. The slowness of a sloth is also a reason they stay in the trees most of their lives, only coming down once a week to relieve themselves.
Sloth vs Koala: Birth of Young
Sloths are mammals that produce fully developed young called cubs. They give birth to one cub per year during reproductive cycles. Koalas are marsupials that give birth to underdeveloped young known as “joeys” that crawl into the mother’s pouch after birth to continue their development.
When they are first born, koalas are roughly an inch long. Once they make it to the pouch, it will take about six months for them to completely develop. They will spend another six months with their mothers before striking out on their own.
Sloth vs Koala: Range
Koalas only live in Australia, and they are not found in the wild anywhere else. Sloths are from Central and South America, and they live in many of the countries in those regions. Sloths have a long history in the area, dating back millions of years when a larger, carnivore version of the modern sloth roamed the area over 3 million years ago.
Sloth vs Koala: Claw Length
Sloths’ claws are longer than koalas’ claws. Sloths are very slow animals, and their claws serve two purposes: fending off prey and climbing trees. The chances that a sloth will survive an attack by a predator are small, but they will try to use their 3-4inch claws to inflict pain on their attacker.
Sloths can have either two or three claws on their front feet depending on the species, and they have three claws on their back feet.
Koalas have 1-inch claws that are primarily used to help them climb around in trees. Their unique “hands” have three fingers and two thumbs while their feet have three fingers and one thumb. Between their claws and unique hands and feet, koalas have no problem grabbing ahold of branches.
Sloth vs Koala: Diet
Sloths’ diets are more diverse than koalas’ diets. Sloths are omnivores that will eat plants, small lizards, fruit, insects, and more. They are completely opportunistic predators that are too slow to hunt anything with purpose. Sloths’ teeth help them eat plants, bite prey, and scare off potential predators.
Koalas are herbivores and they have one of the most interesting diets in the world. Koalas only eat one thing: leaves. Specifically, they have a high preference for eucalyptus leaves from any of the numerous species of that tree. Koalas’ teeth are highly adept at the job, with incisors in the front of their mouths and additional cheek teeth to help crush and grind the food.
These leaves aren’t hard to find, but they are not highly nutritious. However, they might consume other leaves, but they are still very picky.
Sloths and koalas are very distinct creatures. From their size and speed to diet, it’s easy to tell these animals apart at a glance. However, when you look even closer at them, you will notice that great fathoms separate these animals from each other.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © jdross75/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.