How does nature handle tension? If you sleep 10+ hours a day while suspended in a tree, you're going to be dealing with a lot of tension. No, we're not talking emotional turmoil but structural tension. Most organisms would buckle under the pressure of hanging for an entire lifetime, but not the sloth. Let's learn from nature's most fascinating creature that does very little to earn that title: the sloth.
AskNature Nuggets | Episode 23
At first glance sloths seem lazy, slow and do nothing but sleep. But there’s more to them than meets the eye. In a display of mutualism, their dirty fur hosts an ecosystem of algae and other organisms who, in return, help camouflage the sloth in its lush, green surroundings. They also participate in a closed loop system by spending one day each week climbing to the base of their tree to defecate, thereby fertilizing their own food source.
And while sloths are incredibly slow on land, they are well adapted to quickly in a tree. This is because their curved spine copes well with tension rather than compression. This is a design we already use in suspension bridges like Portland’s St. Johns Bridge. How else could architects and engineers find inspiration in the sloth’s uncanny ability to just… hang out?