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Pygmy Three-toed Sloth

Bradypus pygmaeus


The pygmy three-toed sloth is the smallest of the three-toed sloths, and was only recognised as a distinct species in 2001.

It can only be found on the Isla Escudo de Veraguas, which has been separate from mainland Panama for 9,000 years. Famous for its slow movements, the pygmy three-toed sloth is ideally suited to life in the mangroves and is surprisingly good at swimming. The major threat to the pygmy three-toed sloth is habitat destruction, which is reducing the size of its already small habitat. Through the phenomenon of island dwarfism, they have become the smallest member of its genus. The pygmy three-toed sloth is only one of four members in the three-toed sloth genus Bradypus. Sloths usually only descend to the ground when they need to urinate and defecate and can go for up to seven days without needing to defecate. Since their movements are so slow, the pygmy three-toed sloths main forms of defences are camouflage and stealth, whereby they avoid predation largely by avoiding detection. However, they often survive attacks due to their tough hides, strong grips and a remarkable healing ability. The green algae found in the fur of the pygmy three-toed sloth is a unique species of Trichophilus algae which is thought to be symbiotic, providing camouflage to the sloth at no detriment to the sloth’s health. Algae begin to grow on the pygmy three-toed sloth during childhood and are probably transferred from mother to child.

  • Order: Pilosa
  • Family: Bradypodidae
  • Population: <100
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 48.85-53.0cm
  • Weight: 2.5-3.5kg
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


They are endemic, and known only from the small island Isla Escudo de Veraguas which lies about 17km from mainland Panama.

Habitat and Ecology

It is thought that the pygmy three-toed sloth primarily feeds on the leaves of the red mangrove trees in which it lives. These mangroves are thought to cover an area of just 1.3-1.5km² on the island. Adults only come together to mate, finding each other using loud calls. Although the gestation period for the pygmy three-toed sloth is unknown, other species of three-toed sloth are pregnant for between 4 and seven months before giving birth. The mother bears one infant at a time, and will care for it between six months or a year during which time she will carry the young sloth with her everywhere she goes.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

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Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Saving the Pygmy Sloth from Extinction

  • Locations: Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama
  • Active dates: 2012 - ongoing
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Diorene Cabellos

  • Project name: Shielding from extinction the world´s most endangered Xenarthran
  • Project site: Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama
  • Active: 2012 - ongoing
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