Scientists Find Mini-Ecosystems, and Potential Disease Cures, in Sloth Fur

May 4, 2023

Hair full of bugs, fungus, and bacteria? It might be time to get a new shampoo or quick haircut. But if you're a sloth, these tiny creatures could be helpful for you and people, too. 

Researchers have found that many organisms live in a sloth’s coat. “If you look at the sloth's fur, you see movement: you see moths, you see different types of insects... a very extensive habitat,” microbiologist Max Chavarria told Agence France-Presse (AFP). 

The two- and three-toed sloths are native to Costa Rica. They don't get sick easily, even with all those creatures in their hair. Chavarria and his team think that the bacteria in the sloth's fur help them stay healthy. 

"We've never received a sloth that has been sick, that has a disease or has an illness," Judy Avey told AFP. She runs a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica. She stated that this shows that there's something special about the sloth's body. 

In his study, Chavarria focused on 20 microorganisms living in sloth fur. He thinks they might help stop bad bacteria from growing. He hopes that they might help doctors make new medicines to help people fight infections. 

Chavarria said their project could help find new drugs that can be used to fight antibiotic resistance in the future. 

Photo from Unsplash via Javier Mazzeo.

Reflect: What can we learn from studying different organisms in nature?

Which of the following ideas is highlighted throughout the story? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. Sloths have a lot of dangerous organisms living in their fur.
b. Microorganisms living in sloth fur have antibacterial properties for humans.
c. Sloths are resistant to infections despite all the organisms living in their fur.
d. Doctors have created new medicines to combat bacterial infections in humans.
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