Let’s Talk About Sloths, Baby
If you’re a fan of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, you may want to avoid this post until you’ve heard the most recent episode, since I’m going to spoil that show’s Science or Fiction segment starting right about now.
Because we recorded three entire shows in one week before and during the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Steve wasn’t able to handle running all the Science or Fictions, which is the near-final segment of each show in which the panelists must pick the fake story out of three (or four) news items.
I filled in once before and was able to trick one or two of the guys, but this time I wanted to pitch a no-hitter. I asked the Skepchicks for help, and they suggested I choose a theme that I am very well-acquainted with: sloths.
(SPOILERS AHEAD!) I’m happy to say that not only did I stump all four of my SGU co-hosts, but I also fooled our guests, James Randi and Seth Shostak, plus all of the 20 or so people who were in the audience of the intimate live recording. Success! Here were the items I gave them:
1.) Recent phylogenetic analyses suggest an extremely recent common ancestor between two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths, which occupy the same territory, subsist on the same diet, and even have the same number of toes despite the name difference.
2.) Sloths move so slowly that a blue-green algae grows on them, living symbiotically in their hollow hair and providing sustenance for dozens of varieties of arthropods.
3.) Despite the fact that they are incapable of walking, sloths climb down from the trees, poop in a small hole at the foot of the tree, and then climb back up.
4.) Sloths are graceful swimmers who can perform a breast stroke and are descended from an aquatic sloth ancestor.
I’ll give you a second before I reveal the answer, in case you want to figure it out.
Okay, give up? The panelists, guests, and audience were all pretty evenly split between guessing that the fictional item was #3 or #4. However, the actual fiction is #1.
It’s true that 2-toed sloths and 3-toed sloths are incredibly similar, and it’s even true that they have the same number of toes, technically (“2-toed” sloths have two claws on each hand, as opposed to three). But despite this, their common ancestor lived 35-40 million years ago and 2-toed sloths are more closely related to an extinct type of ground sloth than to 3-toed sloths. The species are an example of convergent evolution, due to the similar evolutionary pressures placed on both of them.
Swimming sloths and sloths that poop on the ground were the most difficult for the panelists and audience to believe, but (hooray!) there’s plenty of video evidence to prove the point. Enjoy!
Sloths pooping on the ground (they only poop once a week, and boy do they love it):
Check out how green this mother is:
(Pygmy!) sloths swimming:
This sloth is clearly like, “please get out of my face. You are not saving me.”
As always, more sloth pics can be found on my Pinterest.