If you are a person, you probably had to get out of bed today. So, you can go to work and get some food. But imagine yourself being able to grow all the food you'll ever need on your own bodies. The only reason you ever need to get up is the poop. Well, you wouldn't have to imagine it if you are a three-toed sloth. From the lazy world of sloth to a weird animal discovery.
Biologists from the University of Wisconsin explained how the famous laziness of sloth allows them to nurse a whole ecosystem. Starting with their poop!
It's kinda hard to get enough nutrients when you live in a tree. So, sloth spend as little energy as possible. The two-toed species roam slowly from tree to tree. Pooping wherever they happen to be when the urge hits. But the three-toed species only move about once per week and that's to perform their weekly toilet ritual
The sloth descends from its tree, digs a hole, poops in it, covers it with leaves and then ascend again.
The researchers were curious about this behavior. So, they took a closer look at the ecology on the animals themselves.
Turns out, sloth hair are full of cracks that absorb water and promote the growth of algae. Which is full of fat nutrients. A handy source of food for the sloths. Who doesn't love to eat the stuff that grows in your hair cracks?
In addition to the algae within the sloth fur. There also all kinds of arthropods including the phoretic moth. These moth live in the sloths fur. But, they lay their eggs in the dung and leaves it on the ground. When hatched to the mothlings they fly up to the nearest sloth to live out their short math-lives until they die. The decomposing bodies add nutrients to the sloth fur jungle
In a study over 33 sloth from Costa Rica. Researchers counted the number of moths on each. Then, measure the concentration of nitrogen and algae on that with the two-toed sloth.
It turned out that the three-toed sloths have;
- five times moths of on them
- twice as much nitrogen
- 1/3 more algae
It appears the sloth special pooping method creates a great egg-laying habitat for moths. Which then add to their bodies nitrogen to the fur when they die and fuel more delicious algae growth.
It's the perfect example of mutualism! Mutually beneficial relationship between two organisms.