There’s one thing that almost never makes it into viral videos (even our own) of adorable sloths, and that’s pooping. Probably because sloths generally go only once a week (and sometimes only once a month), but also because it's mildly scarring. It’s like watching an animal ever so slowly give birth—but to a chunky, blackened turd.
On a recent visit to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, The Washington Post not only asked hard-hitting questions on sloth poop mechanics, as befitting such a storied journalistic institution, but also captured rare video of a baby sloth doing his business.
The adorable, 5-month-old Valentino is a Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth, and he only urinates and defecates once a week, in what an aviary employee described as an opening of the floodgates. It all comes out in one big piece, like a hardy poop snake.
A healthy sloth turd can be up to a third of the animal’s body weight, and when it happens, you can visibly see their stomach shrinking. When Valentino is done, you’ll get a somewhat horrifying glimpse of the gaping cavern that is his anus.
In the wild, three-toed sloths climb down from the canopy just to poop, doing a little “poo dance” to make a little latrine. It’s a risky activity, given how slow the animals are. An estimated half of sloth fatalities occur on the ground (and thus, half of sloth fatalities were sloths who really had to go).
Why some sloths undergo such a production every time they need to poop is a scientific mystery, since they could easily just let loose with their giant turds from the canopy. (Grab your hat, because two-toed sloths like Valentino often let loose from above rather than making the trek to the forest floor.) One hypothesis alleges that it’s part of a symbiotic relationship between the sloths, moths, and algae, though it’s far from universally accepted. It may also relate to sloth courtship, signaling to other available sloths through pheromones. Either way, it’s an elaborate production.
[h/t The Washington Post]
Header image by RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GettyImages