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Lucky Field Researcher Witnesses Birth of Sloth! Happy International Day of the Sloth!


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As I share this with you, it is the International Day of the Sloth, 2013.

Jojo and mom Madonna up in a tree in Costa Rica

Back on October 5, 2013, my twitter feed was already quite busy, full of well wishes for my birthday, (which I share, coincidentally, with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and cosmologist, Sean M. Carroll–let’s chalk this up to it being the day most people are born on because our parents “celebrated” New Year’s Eve!), when a tweet comes through, telling me about field biologist Becky Cliffe witnessing the birth of a three-toed sloth in the wild!

Sloth researcher Rebecca “Becky” Cliffe, a PhD candidate hailing from the UK but doing field work in Costa Rica, was out following up on one of her tagged research sloths, when a female named Madonna, who had been raised in the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica and released into the wild, climbed down lower in a tree and gave birth to a baby right in front of her eyes! What a lucky incident. And, as we know in science, we sometimes need a bit of luck on our side for our work!

I had to know more, and I had to see this darling little sloth! Fortunately, Becky was able to capture some video and thousands of photos. As much as I loathe editing, I did some for this little sloth! Take a look at a sloth who is just a few minutes, then a few days, old! All photos and footage are courtesy of Becky.

A friend on twitter saw Becky’s announcement and suggested that the baby be named after “sloth-loving @sciencegoddess”. I am so tickled to say that she kindly obliged and this sloth born on my birthday has been named “Jo-jo”. It is unknown whether the sloth is a boy or a girl, but either way, it seems Becky has the opportunity to observe and learn how mother sloths care for their offspring in the wild.

To learn more about the baby, to see a lot more photos, learn more about other sloths and, naturally, receive updates on Jo-jo, check out Becky’s blog.

A brand new baby sloth just after birth

Rebecca’s PhD research project is called The Sloth Backpack Project, a project funded via Kickstarter (hurrah for Kickstarter Science!) and involves tagging and monitoring the daily activity of wild sloths using a small device called the ‘Daily Diary’. These tags are combined with VHF and GPS units on backpack-style harnesses and essentially tell Becky exactly what wild sloths are doing, where they are doing it and how much energy it is costing them. The hope is to identify factors such as diet, habitat preference, ranging patterns and most importantly how they pass all of this important knowledge onto their babies. Becky has had several sloths tagged so far, but the most exciting subject is Madonna. Becky knew Madonna was pregnant when she tagged her with a backpack (Becky had to completely redesign the harness to make sure it didn’t get in the way of the baby suckling) and amazingly just 2 weeks after releasing her she gave birth right in front of her nose. Now Becky spends her days sat in the jungle wherever Madonna and Jo-Jo happen to be hanging out, watching every single move they make like a hawk.

And to think I spent my graduate school years in front of electron microscopes instead of chasing sloths! Each have their own rewards!

And just a few more photos!

Madonna is working to clean up Jo-jo after birth

After several days, mom and baby are spotted relaxing as sloths do!

Joanne Manaster About the Author: Joanne Manaster is a university level cell and molecular biology lecturer with an insatiable passion for science outreach to all ages. Enjoy her quirky videos at www.joannelovesscience.com, on twitter @sciencegoddess and on her Facebook page at JoanneLovesScience Follow on Twitter @sciencegoddess.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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