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Baby Sloths' Giant Poops Defy Physics/All Decency

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

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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