Share it! Science : International Sloth Day: Amazing Adaptations Activity

International Sloth Day: Amazing Adaptations Activity

Sloth image by Sergiodelgado (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
October 20th is International Sloth Day. Although it seems there is a day for everything now, once you learn more about sloths you'll see that they are worth celebrating! We'll investigate some of the awesome adaptations of the sloth, and share a fun adaptations activity. Then check out a bunch of other great links to fun sloth activities! 

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Sloths are native to South America where they spend most of their time in the trees. You probably associate sloths with being slow or lazy. There is a reason for that! Although sloths are not speedy, they have amazing adaptations allowing them to live successfully in their niche in tropical forests.

What is an adaptation exactly? Adaptations are like a animal or plant's "special features". Adaptations are the way a plant or animal is built or behaves that helps it to survive in its habitat. A plant's thorns, or a duck's waterproof feathers are both examples of adaptations.

Do not be confused by the use of the word "adapt". Animals are not able to quickly adapt to a change in their habitat. For example, if the temperature dips to colder than usual they can't instantly grow fur to keep them warm. Adaptations are changes that have taken place over many generations suiting the animal or plant best for its environment.

Sloths have some AMAZING adaptations!

Sloth eating. By Christian Mehlf├╝hrer, User: Chmehl (Own work) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
As a sloth's diet consists mostly of leaves, they do not get much nutrition or energy from their food. In order to deal with this they have a stomach with many compartments to help slowly break down the leaves. About 2/3 of a healthy sloth's body weight consists of the contents of their stomach! It can take up to a month to digest their leafy diet.

Since a sloth's digestive system is so slow and their food does not provide a lot of energy, they have adaptations to make up for this. They have very slow metabolisms, about 1/2 of what you would expect for an animal of their size. Their body temperatures are very low- only about 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit when they are active, even lower when they are at rest! Sloths do not move quickly, because they do not have the extra energy to waste!

By Stefan Laube (Tauchgurke) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sloth fur is specialized to help protect them as they hang upside down in trees. A sloth's outer fur points in the opposite direction of most mammals- away from their extremities- to protect them from the elements. A sloth living in moist conditions shares its fur with 2 different species of symbiotic cyanobacteria. This cyanobacteria gives the sloth's fur a greenish tinge, which helps to keep it camouflaged.

Besides staying camouflaged and only leaving their spot in the trees once in a while to relieve themselves, the sloth does not have too many adaptations for protection. Their claws are basically their only line of defense if they are actively being attacked. The main predators of sloths are jaguars, harpy eagles and humans.

Amazing Adaptations Activity:

Sloths have great adaptations, and so do many other animals. Here is an engaging activity for getting children to use their imagination and their understanding of animals and habitats. I have used it successfully with a wide variety of age groups, 1st-8th grade.

First you will need to create some lists of adaptations. You'll want several categories. They can be anything of your choosing for plants, or animals. For example here are some categories I might choose for animals: protection, coloration, locomotion, mouth-parts.

Generate a list of adaptations for each category. For example:
Spiky fur
Bad smell
Ability to jump very high

One envelope for each category- filled with adaptations! ©SBF 2015
Bright yellow stripes
Mimics another creature

Excellent climber
Leaps and bounds
Runs very fast

Pointy teeth for eating meat
Sucker mouth
Flat teeth for grinding plants
No teeth

Cut your list into strips, fold and then place them in a container or envelope. You will keep them in their categories, so in my example I would have 4 different envelopes, one for each. Remember, you can have as many categories as you want! Have the kids choose one strip of paper from each envelope. They must create a creature that has each of these features. Then they will draw the creature and their environment and be able to explain how each adaptation helps the new animal to survive in it.
An example I made years ago with some 1st Graders. ©SBF 2015

In my example, the student might have to create a creature with spiky fur, bright yellow stripes, that runs very fast and has flat teeth for grinding plants. Maybe the animal's environment could be one with lots of yellow flowers for camouflage and speedy predators to avoid. Its spiky fur helps to protect it from the thorns on the yellow flowers and allows it to get close to the flower to eat its leaves. Its name is the Yellow-striped Herbiyoo and it lives in the jungle.

Questions to ask:
  • Does the creature have any predators? How does it protect itself?
  • What does it eat? How do its adaptations help it to find food?
  • Could any of these imaginary creatures survive in the same habitat as a sloth?
  • What is your animal's name?
  • How many babies does it have?
What new animals have your kids or students created? We would love to see them and know what other cool facts you learn about sloths! Comment below, or share on our Facebook, Google+ or Twitter pages.

Check out all the great links below for other sloth activities! Many thanks to Peakle Pie for hosting this International Sloth Day Blog Hop

Peakle Pie - Sloth Games
Witty Hoots - Gingerbread Sloths
Kelly's Classroom - Facts About Sloths
Share it! Science News - Amazing Adaptations
Schooling a Monkey - Chenille STEM Sloths
Craft Create Calm - Sloth Books for Kids
Sticky Booger Home Schoolers - Feeling Slothy! Facts and Ideas

Do you have a sloth blog post to share? Link up here!

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