Sunday, January 24, 2010

If Sloths Could Speak

If you know me, you probably know I LOVE animals. From the grand woolly mammoth to the ‘so ugly it’s cute’ naked mole rat, I’m enamored with creatures great and small. So, it may not be surprising to know I volunteer at the zoo.

One of the things I find most fascinating about animals is how they communicate without the benefit of speech. They ‘talk’ with their eyes, their actions and song ala the humpback whale. I know my dog is telling me something when he sits at my feet and stares up at me. “I’m hungry.” “Scratch my chin.” “Are you ever going to finish that novel?” It could be anything, but he is definitely communicating with me. Just by sitting near me he’s telling me he loves me.

Recently, another zoo volunteer and I marveled at what we suspected was animal communication in action. A pair of two-toed sloths share an enclosure with golden lion tamarin monkeys (GLTs), and assorted others in a mixed species exhibit. As we watched the GLT’s characteristically zip around the enclosure like toddlers on chocolate-covered espresso beans, we noticed one of them jump into the sloth box and start harassing her, poking and prodding her as she tried to snooze.

Eventually, the sloth decided she’d had enough and got out of the box - a treat during the day as sloths are nocturnal and spend a majority of their day sleeping. We didn’t take our eyes off her as she made her way across the enclosure toward the other box, the pesky GLT with her the entire time. When she was almost there, the other sloth, who had apparently been resting peacefully, got out of the box so she could get in.

They somehow wordlessly communicated that they were going to trade places. We suspect the female, who is older ‘told’ the younger male to scram, she wanted the box where the GLT wasn’t.

As a writer I spend a lot of my time on word choice. And, I’m guessing if they could speak, the sloths might have some choice words for the GLT.

All for now.



  1. My Henry (dog) tells me by staring when he wants out. If he wants cuddles, he puts his head on the top of the lap top and looks over.

    To play, it's head down, butt up and toy in our mouth.

    And happy is ears and tail up, run in cirlces with his eyes closed.

    TirzahDog--myother dog...she stops her feet and huffs at me if she's mad. NO mistaking that.

  2. She stomps and huffs? Love it! My guy loves to cuddle too. He's 85 lbs and thinks he's still a pup. :) Thanks for sharing.

  3. Interesting way to talk about word choices. That's one subject I've been meaning to blog about. On my first draft, I never seem to go with specifics, which is so important.

    Funny how animals can convey information without the complexity of words. :)

  4. Aw, animals!!

    Yup, they should be writers - if only they had opposable (sp?) thumbs.



    from the desk of a writer