Sloth Species Distribution and Habitat

This interactive map shows the overlapping habitats of different species of Sloths (Bradypus spp. and Choloepus spp.) in South and Central America. The ring around the images has the colors of the different areas, each species occupies. Due to range overlapping, a single species might have more than one color. Each image is a button that you can select to pick the distribution of a particular species. Zoom in the map to take a closer look! For more information scroll down.


Bradypus tridactylus

Bradypus variegatus

Bradypus pygmaeus

Choloepus didactylus

Choloepus hoffmanni

Bradypus torquatus


This chart displays the geography of living sloth species in South and Central America. Noted for their slowness of movement, they spend most of their lives hanging upside down in the trees of neotropical rainforests.

Sloths advance through the canopy at a rate of about 40 yards (36m) per day, munching on leaves, twigs and buds.

Sloths have an exceptionally low metabolic rate, this is why they move slowly, and why they spend 15 to 20 hours per day sleeping.

Surprisingly, this cute and adorable animals are excellent swimmers! They occasionally drop from their treetop branches into swamps, lakes and rivers for a swim. Source: WWF

Some of them have no major threats, but if they are endangered, it is mainly due to the deforestation of their habitat.

These social media darlings have been around far longer than you would expect. Millions of years ago, giant ground sloths the size of elephants roamed the planet. Some were nearly 20 feet (6m) long from snout to tail, with massive claws for pulling branches down to eat.

According to Mongabay "In photos they look a lot like a teddy bear, but in reality they have sharp claws that can do some serious damage."

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Sloth Classification

Sloths are a group of arboreal Neotropical mammals, constituting the suborder Folivora. They are considered to be most closely related to anteaters, together making up the Xenarthran order Pilosa.

As noted in the list below, there are six extant sloth species or types in two genera or groups. These two major groups are classified according to the number of toes they have.

Xenarthra: major clade of placental mammals unique to the AmericasPilosa: group of placental mammals, extant today only in the AmericasFolivora: SlothsCholeopus: Two toed slothsCholoepus didactylus
Choloepus hoffmanni
Bradypus: Three toed slothsBradypus tridactylus
Bradypus variegatus
Bradypus pygmaeus
Bradypus torquatus

If you are interested in the fate of the giant sloths or ground sloths, the extinct relatives of today's sloths, you might find this book on Amazon called Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America (Volume 8) (Organisms and Environments) quite interesting. The book gives paleontological and evolutionary explanations on what could have happened to these creatures.

Below is a description of each sloth species and their habitat.

Two Toed Sloths Choloepus spp.

Linneau's or Choloepus didactylus

Two toed Linneau's or Choloepus didactylus

This two toed sloth is limited to the Amazon forest in South America. Their distribution ranges from sea-level up to 8,000 feet (2,438 m). At sea level, the average temperature is 77° Fahrenheit (25° Celsius). The average annual rainfall is almost 120 inches (3,048mm).

Choloepus move slowly along branches with a deliberate hand-over-hand motion. They are good swimmers. They have weak hind legs and are unable to stand or walk. To move on land they must crawl pulled along by their strong front legs.

Linneau's two toed sloth habitat map

They have the lowest variable body temperature of any mammal, from 75 to 86 degrees F. (24-30 degrees C.). Their digestive system is so slow that they only come down from the trees about once a week to urinate and defecate. They are 20-26 inches (50-65 cm) long, weigh from eight to 20 pounds (4-9 kg). They eat blossoms, young shoots, leaves and fruits. Jaguars, ocelots and other cats prey on the two-toed sloth. It is currently listed as least concern. Source: Choloepus didactylus

Hoffmann's or Choloepus hoffmanni

Hoffmann's or Choloepus hoffmanni

This two toed sloth has a wide distribution in Central and South America. For this reason it is listed as least concert. Locally is relatively abundant. Two-toed sloths inhabit lowland forests as well as higher altitude rain forests. Habitat is limited primarily to areas of continuous canopy. Habitat selection is correlated with social inheritance of the mother’s home range and tree preference. Longevity in the wild is 12 years and in captivity 31 years.

Hoffmann's two toed sloth habitat map

As arboreal mammals, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths eat, sleep, mate, and give birth suspended from tree limbs. Hoffman’s two-toed sloths are nocturnal herbivores. Activity usually begins about an hour after sunset and ceases by sunrise. Although strictly arboreal, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths make their way to the base of trees once a week in order to defecate. Other instances in which they travel to the ground are to change tree location and, on rare occasions, to give birth and mate. Their diet consists of leaves, buds, tender twigs, young plant shoots, fruits, and flowers. Choloepus hoffmanni is considered a flagship species and plays a role in ecotourism. Choloepus hoffmanni. Its conservation status is considered Least Concern

Hoffman's and other sloth species are commonly found in the jungles of Central America. If you would like to see them in their natural habitat, without disturbing their environment I suggest you go to Costa Rica. Tiqets has passes for Mistico Hanging Bridges Park. In this park you can walk on hanging bridges and watch wildlife on tree canopies, including sloths.

For airline tickets, you can compare airline prices at CheapOair.

Three toed Sloths Bradypus spp.

Pale throat or Bradypus tridactylus

three toed pale throated or Bradypus tridactylus

It is a high canopy mammal that lives in South America North of the Amazon River. Locally is relatively abundant. It has a commensal relationship with the algae and invertebrates that live in its abundant pelage. Their pelage color also provides good camouflage. It is listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources because of its distribution in pristine areas of the Amazon Basin. It does not adapt to zoo settings. It is not active; 1 animal sleeps an average of 18.5 h/day. Source: Bradypus tridactylus

pale throated sloth habitat map

Pale throated sloth is a strange animal. It has almost no tail or external ears, and its head is slightly rounded with a blunt nose. The body is covered with long and course hair. This sloth is strictly arboreal and does not live outside of the forest. Bradypus tridactylus is characterized by its excessively slow locomotion. It would take nearly a month for this animal to travel a single mile. The three-toed sloth sleeps 19 hours a day, hanging upside down from the branches. It also eats, mates, and gives birth in the canopy; all of these activities it performs quietly. During the rare times it drops to the ground, it moves by dragging itself by its hands. The sloth can stand on its feet, but cannot walk on them. Surprisingly though, the three-toed sloth is an excellent swimmer.

The Conservation status of the pale throated sloth is Least Concern.

Brown throat or Bradypus variegatus

Brown throated three toed or Bradypus variegatus

Found in many new-world tropical forests, though some have also been discovered in semi-deciduous forests and subtropical lowlands and swamps. They live in the canopy for the majority of their lives and are capable swimmers. They seldom travel on the ground. They can be found at elevations ranging from sea level to 2400 m. Although not selective about the species of tree they choose to inhabit, they tend to seek out trees with crowns that are highly exposed to sunlight. This preference has been attributed to the sloths using sunlight to fulfill their thermoregulatory needs. Even as endotherms, brown-throated three-toed sloths have difficulty regulating their body temperature in cold environments and in cooler ambient temperatures. This is likely due to sparse muscle mass, their relatively small heart, and low-ranging heart rate. Listed as Least Concern due to its wide distribution including a large part of the Amazon forest and Central America.

Brown throated sloth habitat map

As indicated by their common name, brown-throated three-toed sloths have brown coloration on their throat and head. Brown-throated three-toed sloths are thought to be monogamous. Females vocalize to attract males when they are ready to mate. Females typically mate with the first male they encounter. In the wild, the lifespan of adult brown-throated three-toed sloths is typically between 30 and 40 years. Brown-throated three-toed sloths sleep approximately 14 to 16 hours a day and are both diurnal and nocturnal. Bradypus variegatus is a strict herbivore that feeds primarily on trees in the genus Cercropia. They consume various parts of the tree, including leaves, flowers, and fruits. Source: Animal Diversity Web

The Brown throated sloth is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN red list of threatened species.

If you are fascinated by brown throated sloths, and are interested in learning more about their habitat, I recommend you read this amazing Amazon coffee-table book called Sloths: Life in the Slow Lane. It is packed with beautiful pictures and information!

Pygmy or Bradypus pygmaeus

Pygmy sloth Bradypus pygmaeus

It is easily distinguished by its small or dwarf size, and restricted distribution (endemic to Isla Escudo de Veraguas of Bocas del Toro, off the Caribbean coast of Panama). It is found exclusively in red mangroves at sea level. It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) because of its restricted range and declining population size that is due to hunting and tourism. Pygmy three-toed sloths resemble B. variegatus except for their smaller size. The face of B. pygmaeus is buff to tan with a dark band across the brow and an orange wash around the dark eye stripe. Source: Bradypus pygmaeus

Pygmy sloth habitat map

Since their movements are so slow, the pygmy three-toed sloths main forms of defenses are camouflage and stealth, whereby they avoid predation largely by avoiding detection. However, they often survive attacks due to their tough hides, strong grips and a remarkable healing ability. The green algae found in the fur of the pygmy three-toed sloth is a unique species of Trichophilus algae which is thought to be symbiotic, providing camouflage to the sloth at no detriment to the sloth’s health. Algae begin to grow on the pygmy three-toed sloth during childhood and are probably transferred from mother to child. Source: EDGE

Maned or Bradypus torquatus

Three toed Maned or Bradypus torquatus

This sloth is listed as vulnerable. It is endemic to the Atlantic coastal forests of southeastern Brazil. Its narrow habitat in South America is highly fragmented. Occasionally placed in its own genus (Scaeopus), the black mane of this three-toed sloth is distinctive. Both males and females have a black mane, but juveniles don't have it. Like other sloths, B. torquatus is a high-canopy organism with a commensal relationship with algae and invertebrates that live in its abundant pelage. B. torquatus is an endangered species that does not adapt to captive zoo settings.

Maned sloth habitat map

Mean home-range size is 5.4–5.6ha, distance traveled on average was 24 m over 24 h, 5 m at night and 17 m during the day. Percentages of daylight behaviors for 3 animals were resting, 60–80%; feeding, 7–17%; moving, 6–17%; and grooming, 1–6%. Single animals ate leaves from 7–12 species, and young leaves were preferred over mature leaves. Source: Bradypus torquatus

Resources and Inspiration for Sloth Distribution

This map was inspired by my childhood and the joy of seeing sloths for the first time. Back then it was a common practice for locals to own one or to display them on the beach for tourists. Fortunately this is no longer the case. I have not seen one in the wild, but hope that due to their wide distribution I will see one again!

I thought there were only 2 types of sloths. Looking a bit into them I realized there were 6 species. I decided I could learn more about them and inform about the different groups by creating this interactive map.

I made this map because I wanted to know: Where do sloths live? Do sloth species habitat overlap? Do all sloths live in South America? Do sloths only live close to the Amazon?

To create this map I used the tutorials for Let's make a Map.

The different sloth habitats and further information about sloths were obtained from The 2010 Sloth Red List Assessment. The map produced is an approximation inferred from this list.

The shapefiles with the different ecoregions in Central and South America were obtained from Ecological Regions. The ecoregions are the fainted lines visible on the map.

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Sloth species habitat map