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Every Creeping Thing

Richard Conniff

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Sloth toilet habits: they defecate regularly, every 8 days. You'd think no-one wd notice if they just dropped it from 50 feet up in the branches, but the slothalways clambers laboriously down to the base of the tree, digs a little hole with his stubby little tail, covers waste with dead leaves then climbs back into the canopy.

What makes it even more bizarre is that this ritual is the focus of intense interest among a wide group of specialised insects living in the sloth's hair. Researchers have gathered 120 moths and nearly a 1000 beetles from a single sloth, all of them waiting patiently for the sloth's weekly defecation, which is a major source of nutrition and egg laying. Some of the beetles actually enter the sloth's anus to lay their eggs, gaining several days incubation time on their less intrepid rivals.

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