Sloths are medium sized, slow moving mammals that have two sloth types (or families): Megalonychidea and Bradypodidae. Those that are in the Megalonchidea family have two-toes, while those in the Bradypodidae family have three-toes. The sloths that have two-toes also have only two fingers and are faster and larger than those in the three-toe family. Hundreds of years ago, it is believed that there were three-toed sloths that grew to the size of elephants. Unfortunately those sloths are now extinct.
Both families can live in the same tropical rainforest. Two-toed sloths tend to live on the ground and three-toed sloths live in the trees. This allows them to live equally happy without disturbing one another. Both families are omnivores (they eat meat and vegetables). Their diets generally consists of: small lizards, insects, carrion (animal flesh that is decaying), leaves, buds, small birds and tender shoots. Their favorite foods (tender shoots and leaves) come mainly from Cecropia trees.
The three-toed sloths take to the ground once a week to urinate and defecate. They dig holes, empty their bladders and bowels and cover them up and return to the trees. The slow-moving mid-sized animals make the perfect habitat for smaller animals. A sloth can provide a home for: cockroaches, moths, beetles, algae and fungi all at the same time. They make a great home for lesser organisms due to their lack of hygiene and the camouflage that is offered. Smaller species can survive on the skin of a sloth and not be concerned with fending off predators.
Sloths from both families are considered endangered. There are unable to survive (on their own) outside of a tropical rain forest. Their active body temperatures are normally low (between 30-35 degrees Celsius) and the conditions and heat that is found in tropical settings allow them to function successfully. When they are at rest, which is most of their day, their core body temperatures dip even lower.
Most sloths that you would see currently are from the family of the two-toed and there is not much information on the three-toed family of sloths. No one truly knows how they evolved to have three-toes or if sloths began with three and adapted through time to have only two.
It is believed that as people began to move onto the continents of South and Central America (where sloths have been found most often) they began to die off. This is said to be due to loss of habitat (homes) and food supplies as well as hunting. In areas such as Asia, Madagascar and Australia, it is believed that the sloth population was decreased due to the Ice Age. In Peru and Chile there used to be sloths that could swim, but the decrease in water temperature brought upon adaptation and population decrease.
In many cultures the names for sloths translate into the words: dirt, eat and sleep. No matter what family a sloth belongs to, its days are filled with eating and sleeping and becoming clean is not on the agenda.