I first laid eyes on a slow loris at London zoo several years ago. He (could’ve been a she for all I know) was steadily moving through the branches in his enclosure, stretching out his tiny five fingered hand to grasp the leafy twig in front of him. I was fascinated because I had never seen this adorable, and slightly odd, looking animal before. I stood there watching it for about half an hour before my mum came to find me to drag me away…
Slow lorises are nocturnal primates that live in Southeast Asia. They are omnivores; eating fruit, tree gum, vegetation, insects, eggs, reptiles and small mammals. They have a number of curious adaptations that help them to be perfectly specialised to live in their specific environment.
One of their most unusual features is their toxic bite; something which is pretty rare amongst mammals. They create this toxin by licking a specific gland on their arm. The secretion from the gland is then made toxic by mixing with the loris’ saliva. Their bite helps to protect them against predators, which include snakes, hawk-eagles, orangutans, civets, and sun bears. This is particularly useful in the protection of slow loris infants, as the toxin itself is applied to the fur of the infants during grooming. Slow lorises are also, as their name suggests, incredibly slow creatures. They are very well adapted to moving carefully and leisurely through the trees, making hardly any noise so as to remain undetected by predators. When threatened, they are able to remain completely motionless, waiting passively until the danger has subsided.
Slow lorises also have a low basal metabolic rate. This means that, as a warm blooded animal, their minimal rate of energy expenditure rate is incredibly low when they are at rest. This low metabolic rate is unusual because they have a rather high-calorie diet, that they are able to maintain all year round, so they don’t technically need to conserve energy. However, this adaptation has been linked to the loris’ need to remove toxic compounds from their food. For example, they are quite partial to eating the bark of the gluta tree, which is toxic and very harmful to humans. So, their low metabolic rate can help the slow lorises with digesting such toxic foods.
I decided to include the wonderful slow loris in this Curious Creature collection because I am interested by their marvellous adaptations. Unfortunately though, for the poor loris, lots of people find them adorable (due to their languid movements and large eyes), so much so that they want to have them as pets. Since 2012, slow lorises have been listed as an endangered species because they are being threatened by both habitat loss and the pet trade. The slow loris’ fairly recent popularity on the internet has caused a significant decrease in the population. As part of the pet trade, the slow loris often has it’s teeth pulled out in order to make it more manageable in captivity. Since they are rather difficult animals to care for, they often die from infection, blood loss (usually after teeth extraction), a poor diet, or improper handling. New laws will hopefully help in preventing these animals from being snatched from the wild, allowing them to once again thrive as a species.
Not only are slow lorises cute, they’re also curious. Their toxic bite, low metabolism, large eyes, and dexterous hands definitely prove that!