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They are classified in the order Pilosa because they are related to anteaters, which sport a similar set of specialized claws.
The sloth's taxonomic suborder is Folivora, sometimes also called Phyllophaga (Owen, 1842) or Tardigrada (Latham and Davies, 1795). Sloths are classified as folivores, as the bulk of their diets consist of buds, tender shoots, and leaves, mainly of Cecropia trees. Although unable to survive outside the tropical rainforests of South and Central America, within that environment sloths are outstandingly successful creatures. Sloth fur exhibits specialized functions: the outer hairs grow in a direction opposite from that of other mammals.
Despite their adaptation to living in trees, sloths (like many other rainforest animals) make competent swimmers. Sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly; they have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight.
Sloths were thought to be among the most somnolent animals, sleeping from 15 to 18 hours each day. Sloths go to the ground to urinate and defecate about once a week, digging a hole and covering it afterwards. Infant sloths normally cling to their mothers' fur, but occasionally fall off.[citation needed] Sloths are very sturdily built and rarely die from a fall.
Almost all mammals have seven cervical vertebrae (neck bones), including those with very short necks, such as elephants or whales, and those with very long necks, such as giraffes).
Sloths are members of the superorder Xenarthra, a group of mammals that appeared in South America about 60 million years ago (Mya),[26] although at least one source puts the date at which sloths and related animals broke off from other placental mammals at about 100 Mya.[27] Also included among the Xenarthra are anteaters and armadillos. The living sloths belong to one of two families, known as the Megalonychidae ("two-toed" sloths) and the Bradypodidae (three-toed sloths). However, their adaptations belie the actual relationships of the living sloth families, which are more distant from each other than their outward similarity suggests. The following sloth phylogeny was obtained by morphological analysis of craniodental characters,[29][30] and places Bradypus as the sister group to all other extant and known extinct sloths (extant genera are in bold).

They are named after the capital sin of sloth because they seem slow and lazy at first glance; however, their usual idleness is due to metabolic adaptations for conserving energy. Extinct sloth species include many megafaunal ground sloths, some of which attained the size of elephants, as well as a few species of marine sloths. Some two-toed sloths have been documented as eating insects, small reptiles, and birds as a small supplement to their diets. In most mammals, hairs grow toward the extremities, but because sloths spend so much time with their legs above their bodies, their hairs grow away from the extremities to provide protection from the elements while the sloth hangs upside down.
This is likely to have been true of the extinct ground sloths, as well, as evidenced by the fact that megalonychid sloths were able to colonise the Antilles by the Oligocene, and that the megalonychid Pliometanastes and the mylodontid Thinobadistes were able to colonise North America about 9 million years ago, well before the existence of the Isthmus of Panama.
In some cases, they die from a fall indirectly because the mothers prove unwilling to leave the safety of the trees to retrieve the young.[citation needed] Females normally bear one baby every year, but sometimes sloths' low level of movement actually keeps females from finding males for longer than one year. All living sloths have in fact three toes; the "two-toed" sloths, however, have only two fingers. The common ancestor of the two families apparently lived 35a€“40 Mya, making the living forms exceptional examples of convergent or parallel evolution.[28] The two-toed sloths of today are far more closely related to one particular group of ground sloths than to the living three-toed sloths. Rather, they make up a number of lineages, and as far as is known, until the Holocene, most sloths were in fact ground-dwellers. Aside from their surprising speed during emergency flights from predators, other notable traits of sloths include their strong body and their ability to host symbiotic algae on their furs.
Extant sloths are medium-sized arboreal (tree-dwelling) residents of the jungles of Central and South America. Names for the animals used by tribes in Ecuador include ritto, rit, and ridette, mostly forms of the word "sleep", "eat", and "dirty" from Tagaeri tribe of Huaorani. Linnaeus's two-toed sloth has recently been documented eating human faeces from open latrines.[6] They have made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle. In most conditions, the fur hosts two species of symbiotic algae, which provide camouflage.[10][11] Because of the algae, sloth fur is a small ecosystem of its own, hosting many species of non-parasitic insects.
Despite sloths' apparent defenselessness, predators do not pose special problems: sloths blend in with the trees and, moving only slowly, do not attract attention.

Their specialised hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside down from branches without effort.[13] While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs. Neil Rattenborg and his colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Starnberg, Germany, published a study testing sloth sleep patterns in the wild; this is the first study of its kind.
Whether these ground-dwelling Megalonychidae were descended from tree-climbing ancestors or whether the two-toed sloths are really miniature ground sloths converted (or reverted) to arboreal life cannot presently be determined to satisfaction. The famous Megatherium, for example, belonged to a lineage of ground sloths that was not very close to the living sloths and their ground-living relatives, like the small Neocnus or the massive Megalonyx. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrients, and do not digest easily.
While the sloth defecates, female moths that otherwise live on a sloth will get off and immediately lay their eggs directly on the fecal matter, on which the larvae survive until they mature to adulthood and are able to fly onto sloths. Both types tend to occupy the same forests; in most areas, one species of three-toed sloth and one species of the larger two-toed type will jointly predominate.
The latter possibility seems slightly more likely, because the small ground sloths Acratocnus and Neocnus, which were also able to climb, are among the closer relatives of the two-toed sloths, and these together were related to the huge ground sloths Megalonyx and Megalocnus. Meanwhile, Mylodon, among the last ground sloths to disappear, was only very distantly related to either of these.
Sloths, therefore, have large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. The majority of recorded sloth deaths in Costa Rica are due to contact with electrical lines and poachers. Their claws also provide a further unexpected deterrent to human hunters; when hanging upside-down in a tree, they are held in place by the claws themselves and often do not fall down even if shot from below.

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