These days, it seems like everything’s coming up sloths. The tree-dwelling mammals are fodder for all sorts of loving memes and online jokes. And don’t be surprised if a visit to your favorite retailer includes tempting merchandise of sloths being, well, sloths: sleepy, slow-moving and cute.
But meme makers aren’t the only people intrigued by sloths. They’re beloved by scientists, too. Zoologist Lucy Cooke makes a case for the animals in a viral TED Talk. The mammals are her “animal muse,” and she thinks they’re too often misunderstood.
Cooke tracks the origins of sloth bashing — and puts sloths in scientific context. They’re among the most abundant, successful creatures in South American rainforests, and their lazy-seeming bodies actually represent an evolutionary triumph.
Sloths have evolved to survive on extremely small amounts of calorie-light food. They’re efficient in other ways, too: as swimmers, tree hangers and survivors of the sometimes perilous rainforest ecosystem. For those reasons, scientists like Cooke are intrigued by what their bodies convey about animal evolution and what evolutionary success can look like.
Using some humor and plenty of visuals, the speaker makes an amusing case for why sloths are worth everyone’s attention. Cooke’s bias is clear — she’s published books on sloths and even runs the Sloth Appreciation Society. But her excitement about the animals is contagious. It’s a reminder of the seemingly endless evolutionary potential of every species, and the deeper stories of the animals we love to reduce to fun memes and merch. Ready to start appreciating sloths? Watch the talk at bit.ly/TEDsloths.