Hair of the sloth

Wild sloths have symbiotic green algae and other organisms living in their fur. It’s adorable, isn’t it? But in captivity, sloths get bathed and hung up to dry. That’s adorable too. I suppose the zookeepers do it for the animals’ benefit but when I saw this clip, my first thought was that these sloths should be allowed to carry their symbionts.

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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13 Responses to Hair of the sloth

  1. lowerarchy says:

    I knew some blokes in Moseley that had similar green symbiotic organisms…

  2. Carol Hague says:

    Glad yo liked the sloths. I did wonder about the algae but can’t find any information about it on the Sloth sanctuary website…

  3. Daniel Digby says:

    Polar bears in many zoos also have green fur and for the same reason. This must make them first cousins to sloths and lichens. Most of your readers probably already know that polar bear skin is black, but the hairs (both guard hairs and undercoat) are not white. They grade from translucent to transparent, but they are hollow. The size of the cylindrical hole leads to Rayleigh scattering of most visible wavelengths, making it appear white. Physicists used to think that polar bear hair might act like optical fibers, but it doesn’t. The diameter of the hollow space restricts what species of algae can grow inside the hair. The Memphis Zoo keeps the water in the polar bear enclosure algae-free, so we miss out on green bears.

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