Pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus)

Pygmy three-toed sloth
IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered CRITICALLY

Top facts

  • The pygmy three-toed sloth is found in a tiny area of red mangrove forests on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama.
  • The pygmy three-toed sloth was recognised as a distinct species in 2001.
  • The pygmy three-toed sloth has rapidly evolved a much smaller body size in its short 8,900 years of isolation from mainland species.
  • Sloth hair grows in the opposite direction to most animals, so water runs away from the skin when the animal is upside down.
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Pygmy three-toed sloth fact file

Pygmy three-toed sloth description

GenusBradypus (1) (2)

With only a small population confined to a single tiny island off the coast of Panama, the pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is the most endangered of all Xenarthra. As its name suggests, this recently discovered species is a dwarf compared with its mainland relatives (4). In addition to its small size, the pygmy three-toed sloth is characterised by usually blotchy, pale grey-brown fur and a tan-coloured face with a distinctive dark band across the forehead, from which long, shaggy hair hangs over the face, giving a hooded appearance. Sloths have an unusual means of camouflage to avoid predation; their outer fur is often coated in algae, giving the pelage a greenish tint that helps hide them in their forest habitat. Three-toed sloths (Bradypus) can be distinguished from their distant relatives, the two-toed sloths (Choloepus), by the three digits on their forelimbs, blunter muzzle, and simpler, peg-like teeth (3).

Perezoso Pigmeo.
Total length: 485 - 530 mm (3)
Tail length: 45 - 60 mm (3)
2.5 - 3.5 kg (3)

Pygmy three-toed sloth biology

Very little is known about the biology of the pygmy three-toed sloth, although much can be inferred from what is known about three-toed sloths generally. Three-toed sloths are arboreal folivores that eat the leaves of a variety of trees. This is an energy-poor diet, and these animals have a very low metabolic rate (3). Their main defences are camouflage, stealth and stillness, whereby they avoid predation largely by avoiding detection (3) (5). However, should they be attacked, sloths also have a remarkable capacity to survive due to their tough hides, tenacious grips and extraordinary ability to heal from grievous wounds (5).


Pygmy three-toed sloth range

The pygmy three-toed sloth is known only from Isla Escudo de Veraguas in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, Panama (1) (3).


Pygmy three-toed sloth habitat

The pygmy three-toed sloth is known exclusively in red mangrove forests surrounding the island at near sea level (1) (3).


Pygmy three-toed sloth status

The pygmy three-toed sloth is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Pygmy three-toed sloth threats

The pygmy three-toed sloth has an extremely restricted range on one very small island. Although the island is uninhabited, fishermen, farmers, lobster divers and local people are all seasonal visitors, and are thought to hunt the sloths illegally. The growing tourism industry is also a potential threat to the species, by degrading its habitat (1).


Pygmy three-toed sloth conservation

Isla Escudo de Veraguas is protected as a wildlife refuge and is contained within the Comarca Indigenous Reserve. However, law enforcement within this protected area is currently inadequate, and needs to be improved, in order to benefit the pygmy three-toed sloth (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the pygmy three-toed sloth: 



Reviewed (23/02/2007) by Robert, P. Anderson, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, City College of New York, and Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History.



Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
Living in trees.
Leaf eating.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2006)
  2. Anderson, R.P. (2007) Pers. comm.
  3. Anderson, R.P. and Handley Jr., C.O. (2001) A new species of three-toed sloth (Mammalia: Xenarthra) from Panama, with a review of the genus Bradypus. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 114(1): 1 - 33.
  4. IUCN 2006 Red List of Threatened Species: Portraits in Red – Taking a closer look at the species under threat (January, 2007)
  5. Perezoso Productions: Hanging with the Sloths (January, 2007)

Image credit

Pygmy three-toed sloth  
Pygmy three-toed sloth

© Bryson Voirin

Bryson Voirin


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