Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Sloth’s Busy Inner Life

The sloth is not so much an animal as a walking ecosystem. This tightly fitting assemblage consists of a) the sloth, b) a species of moth that lives nowhere but in the sloth’s fleece and c) a dedicated species of algae that grows in special channels in the sloth’s grooved hairs. Groom a three-toed sloth and more than a hundred moths may fly out. When the sloth grooms itself, its fingersmove so slowly that the moths have no difficulty keeping ahead of them.
The probable interplay of these three components has now been worked out by a team of biologists led by Jonathan N. Pauli and M. Zachariah Peery at the University of Wisconsin. Their first step was to ponder a 35-year-old mystery about the behavior of the sloth.

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