Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The Decoding of Slowness

Zoologists of the University Jena find out how Sloths perfectioned energy saving

They live their lives upside down; instead of defying the force of gravity in an upright position, sloths spend most of their lives hanging in trees upside down. If they have to move, they do so only slowly. Very slowly. But why are sloths so ‘lazy‘? And how has the locomotive system of these outsiders adapted to their unhurried lifestyle in the course of evolution? Zoologists of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany) have looked into the matter comprehensively.

“To our great surprise the locomotion of the sloths is basically not so different from the locomotion of other mammals, like monkeys for instance, which instead of hanging from tree branches, balance along them”, says Dr. John Nyakatura. In his doctoral thesis at the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology with Phyletic Museum the evolutionary biologist analyzed the locomotion of sloths with X-ray video equipment. That was not so easy at the beginning, as the first sloth stepping in front of the camera for the Jena scientist simply refused to work. ”Mats, the sloth, just didn’t want to co-operate”, Nyakatura remembers, smiling. Therefore it was given to a zoo and made headlines around the globe as the ‘laziest animal in the world’.

In comparison, the two-toed sloths Julius, Evita and Lisa appeared to be more co-operative. They brachiated along the provided pole in the X-ray tube. “The position of their legs and the bending of their joints matches exactly those of other mammals in the process of walking“, Nyakatura explains. Hence one could imagine the locomotion of sloths actually as ‘walking’ under a tree. Just much slower than other quadrupeds.

However, the evolutionary biologist found distinct differences in the anatomical structure of the animals. “Sloths have very long arms, but only very short shoulder blades (scapulae), being able to move freely on top of a narrow, rounded chest. This lends them a maximum radius of movement“. Moreover a dislocation of certain muscular contact points occurred which enabled them to keep their own body weight with a minimum of energy input. “In the evolution of the sloths the adaptation to the slow, energy saving way of movement occurred solely through their anatomy”, John Nyakatura sums up. What was even more astonishing, this principle developed in two cases independent of each other: in the two-toed sloths and in the three-toed sloths. But although the outward appearance and lifestyle of the animals may lead to the assumption of them being related to each other, these two families are, from an evolutionary point of view, only distant relations.

“With their mode of life the sloths are filling an ecological niche”, adds Prof. Dr. Martin S. Fischer, who oversaw John Nyakatura’s doctoral thesis. “Sloths lead their lives in energy saving mode”. Their usage of energy saving food in connection with an unobtrusive lifestyle turns them into complete ‘models of energy saving’ among the mammals, according to the Jena Professor of systematic zoology and evolutionary biology. And this was a well-known recipe for success – completely unrelated to ‘laziness’.

Meanwhile John Nyakatura and his colleagues are not analyzing sloths any more – those have returned to the Zoo in Dortmund. Now the Jena researchers are applying themselves to the movement of birds.

Contact details:
Dr. John Nyakatura
Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology with Phyletic Museum
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Erbertstrasse 1
D-07743 Jena
Phone: ++49 3641 949183
Email: john.nyakatura[at]

Ute Schönfelder | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>