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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Giant Ground Sloths were large, lumbering beasts that lived in North, South and Central Americas during the most recent Ice Age".........."They were directly related to modern day Sloths, today found only in Central and South America".............."As the Ice Age glaciers began to melt around 11,700 years ago, scientists believe that Giant Sloths went extinct".........."Their fossils have been recovered from about 150 sites across North America as far north as Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada, south to California, Arizona and New Mexico, northern Mexico and across to Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee" ..........."The Sloths of today are cousins of Armadillos and Anteaters"......... "Their hairy coats host entire ecosystems of invertebrates and algae; the latter lend the sloths’ coats their greenish tint"........... "Sloths move at the astonishingly slow pace of about 36 meters (120 feet) per day, typically climbing down from their arboreal perches just once a week to poop"............."Nearly everything about sloth behavior and physiology proceeds in slow motion"..........."For example, that it takes the animals around 30 days to simply digest a leaf"

Keeping Pygmy Sloths afloat

by: EARTH TOUCH NEWS; 3/14/18 
Story by Hillary Rosner | Photographs by Suzi Eszterhas

In the balmy waters of a tiny island off Panama’s Caribbean coast, a pygmy three-toed sloth, (Bradypus pygmaeus) takes a dip. Just discovered at the start of the 21st century, and found exclusively on this island roughly 17 kilometers (10 miles) from the Panamanian mainland, this is the only sloth known to swim in salt water. And these diminutive tree-dwellers seem to swim far more frequently than their larger cousins, placidly paddling with just their flat-snouted, hairy heads protruding from the turquoise sea.

 A Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth taking a swim in the waters of Panama’s Isla Escudo de Veraguas

“If they have to change trees, they just plop into the water,” says Becky Cliffe, a British zoologist and founder of the Sloth Conservation Foundation, or SloCo. “They’d rather swim than crawl on the ground.” Because sloths float easily, swimming is an efficient form of locomotion. In fact, sloths can move three times faster in the water than they can through the trees. Roughly a third of a sloth’s body mass comes from leaves in its stomach, which generate a fair amount of gas as they’re being digested. “They’re like big balls of air,” Cliffe says.

Cliffe believes pygmy sloths also likely swim longer distances than other sloths – though, like many aspects of the species’ ecology and behavior, there is no conclusive evidence.

Panama's Isla Escudo de Veraguas

Studying sloths – pygmy and otherwise – requires ingenuity, time, and a whole lot of patience. “With a lot of animals, you can do a few weeks or months in the field and collect a lot of data,” says Cliffe, who is based on the east coast of Costa Rica and began working with sloths a decade ago while studying zoology as an undergraduate. She landed a year-long research position at a sloth sanctuary, and, as she describes it, “slowly discovered nobody really knows anything about sloths.”
What little is known only adds to the intrigue surrounding these animals. Sloths, which live only in Central and South America, belong to the order Pilosa, along with anteaters; they are also distant cousins of armadillos. Arguably some of nature’s strangest creatures, their hairy coats host entire ecosystems of invertebrates and algae; the latter lend the sloths’ coats their greenish tint. Sloths move at the astonishingly slow pace of about 36 meters (120 feet) per day, typically climbing down from their arboreal perches just once a week to poop.
Pygmy three-toed sloths move faster in the water than on the ground, which makes swimming the preferred mode of travel.

Nearly everything about sloth behavior and physiology proceeds in slow motion. Cliffe has discovered, for example, that it takes the animals around 30 days to simply digest a leaf. Based on findings like these, she knew that “a one-month research project was not going to cut it.” She opted for a seven-year Ph.D. project, during which she set out to learn about sloth genetics, behavior, and biochemical processes. As part of that research, she outfitted sloths with tiny data-logger “backpacks” – technology designed by her advisor at Swansea University – that record thousands of biological measurements throughout the day. Cliffe’s findings from that research, as well as a lengthy genetic study, will be published later this year.
Cliffe also hopes to shed light on some of the mysteries of pygmy sloths specifically – including whether they are truly a distinct species. There are six known species of sloths in total, including both two-toed and three-toed varieties. Scientists described B. pygmaeus as a new species in 2001, based mainly on its size: Pygmy sloths are roughly 40 percent smaller than the average sloth, and lighter, too, with more modest skulls. They eat the leaves of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) trees, which no other sloths are known to eat. And pygmy sloths live solely on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, the outermost island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, a chain that separated from mainland Panama as sea levels rose some 9,000 years ago. Further supporting this separate-species hypothesis, Escudo de Veraguas is also home to endemic species of hummingbirds and bats.
 A Tree Dweller

On four of the chain’s other islands, the resident sloths are smaller than average as well. But only those on Escudo de Veraguas are different enough that scientists have designated them as a separate species. Distinct genetic differences have yet to be proven, though, and Cliffe believes pygmy sloths are actually just a smaller-bodied population of brown-throated three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus) – the same species found throughout Central America.
In 2015, Cliffe and colleagues visited Escudo de Veraguas for five days with the hope of determining just how many sloths live on the island, how much inbreeding is occurring, and how distinct the sloths are from their mainland cousins. The researchers collected hair samples for DNA, and also recorded body size and weight.
Mom with baby Sloth

The results of the study are not yet complete, but for now the dwarf sloth is listed as critically endangered, based on its isolated habitat and what some researchers believe is a decline in numbers from hunting and potential tourism development on its island home. Although Escudo de Veraguas has no resident population of humans, indigenous families from Panama’s Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca frequently set up fishing camps there, cutting down trees for huts and firewood and purportedly eating sloths whenever their fishing nets come back mostly empty.
A scientific survey several years ago found that the island’s mangrove forests were being fragmented by tree felling, and that the resulting gaps in the canopy were interrupting the previously continuous treetop highways. This is an important loss for sloths, which are at a much greater risk of predation by feral cats, among a few other predators, when traveling on the ground.
During that study, the researchers also noted two dead pygmy sloths whose carcasses were still intact, suggesting that they weren’t killed by predators. That could signal “a high rate of death through disease, habitat loss, or natural causes,” they wrote.
4-Month Old baby Sloth

Shrinking genetic diversity caused by inbreeding within small populations could pose a threat to the pygmy sloths as well. The island covers only about 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles), and just how many sloths live there is a question that has vexed scientists since the species was first described. In research published in 2012, scientists surveying the island found 79 of the animals, the vast majority of them living in the easily accessible mangroves at the island’s edges. But many more sloths may inhabit the interior forests, where they are much harder to see and track.
“Censusing a cryptic animal such as a sloth is challenging,” wrote Bryson Voirin, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, in a 2015 study of the pygmy sloth. “Standard methods such as footprint tracks and camera traps are ineffective, and visual searches likely miss an overwhelming majority of sloths, especially in the dense rainforest.” Voirin concluded that the population was far higher than previously thought, likely somewhere between 500 and 1,500.
Ongoing research continues to turn up intriguing facts about the pygmies—like what resides in the teeming cities of their fur. One team of researchers analyzed exactly what was living in the pygmy sloths’ coats and discovered that while they host just one variety of green algae, they provide habitat for nearly 40 other kinds of tiny critters—more than any other species of sloth—“including ciliates, apicomplexans, dinoflagellates, and fungi,” according to a study published in 2010.
Cliffe’s findings, when published, will provide another window into these curious creatures’ biology. And as scientists begin to see pygmy sloths more clearly, they’ll also gain new insights into how to protect the pint-sized swimmers and their lush little island home.

Facts About the Giant Ground Sloth

Giant ground sloths were large, lumbering beasts that lived in the Americas during the Ice Age. They were directly related to today's modern sloths. They were also distantly related to anteaters and armadillos.

One species of ground sloth is named after Thomas Jefferson. The future third president had a well-known interest in fossils, and a friend had sent him some bones that had been found in a cave in West Virginia. Jefferson first thought the bones belonged to a large lion and called it the "Great Claw," or Megalonyx, according to the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. In 1797, as he was preparing a paper on the find for the American Philosophical Society, he saw an engraving of a sloth skeleton and realized that his fossil was similar and that his classification was wrong. Later, Jefferson was credited with discovering the extinct sloth, which was named Megalonyx jeffersonii
The six modern species of sloths are all arboreal, so they are called tree sloths. These sloths are small-bodied and weigh less than 20 pounds. Many of their extinct relatives were much larger and lived on the ground. Because of this, they are referred to as ground sloths.
Megalonyx jeffersonii was the largest of the ground sloths in family Megalonychidae, reaching the size of an ox when fully grown, said Ken Wilkins, an associate dean for sciences and professor of biology at Baylor University. Megalonyx sloths grew to around 9.8 feet (3 meters) long and weighed up to 2,205 lbs. (1,000 kilograms), according to the San Diego Zoo.

Giant ground sloths evolved in South America around 35 million years ago. Around 8 million years ago, they migrated into North America, according to the San Diego Natural History Museum
Giant ground sloths preferred forests along rivers or lakes, but they also lived during the Pleistocene period, also known as the Great Ice Age. At its peak, as much as 30 percent of the Earth's surface was covered by glaciers and parts of the northern oceans were frozen, according to the San Diego Natural History Museum.  This made for a very cold environment that few animals could endure. 
By the end of the Great Ice Age, around 11,700 years ago, many believe that the giant ground sloths had become extinct. Some argue that they were around for many more thousands of years, though, surviving on islands in the Caribbean.
Ground sloths were herbivores, meaning they ate vegetation. Their peg-like teeth were ideal for this diet, but they also had other body parts that played a large part in their meals. "They had long curved claws, likely an adaptation for foraging for grabbing branches and stripping foliage from tree limbs, as well as for protection from predators," Wilkins told Live Science. 
Their hind foot structure and posture of the ground sloths also helped it with meal time. They likely relied on their robust hind feet, in combination with a stout tail, to support their massive bodies when rearing on their hindquarters to reach high into trees for forage, Wilkins explained.

Fossil finds
Megalonyx fossils have been recovered from about 150 sites across North America, according to the Illinois State Museum. Some have been found as far north as Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada. They have also been found in California, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as northern Mexico. In the Midwest, most of them have been found in caves, including sites in Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.  
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