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Published on March 12th, 2012 | by Yellow Magpie

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Slow Loris: The Toxic, Misunderstood Mammal

Slow Loris Photo By David Haring Of The Duke Lemur Center

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Slow Lorises are still relatively poorly understood mammals. Even the dawdling characteristic in their namesake has been bestowed through error. Slow Lorises are far from slow when they really want to move.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Slow Lorises, and what has led to their human endearment and captivity, is their very large eyes.

It is their ocular characteristics that has lead to both their fame and their imprisonment.

Slow Loris Photo By Helena Snyder

A Toxic Predator

Slow Lorises are the only known mammal to possess a highly toxic bite, making them far from harmless. They are omnivores and have been observed to have a preference for anything that is small enough to be eaten. Given a choice a Slow Loris will always choose something living to eat.

Slow Lorises are extremely well adapted. Glands in their arms produce an oily secretion that is harmless on its own. However, when this secretion is mixed with the Slow Loris’s saliva a highly dangerous toxin is formed. The toxin is then administered through biting.

There has only been one documented case of a person dying from a Slow Loris bite. This is thought to have resulted from anaphylactic shock. Nevertheless, wounds that are caused by the Slow Loris can take a very long time to heal. Larger predators can smell the highly pungent toxin and most will retreat.

Slow Loris Photo By Silke Hahn

The Slow Myth

Slow Lorises are mistakenly compared to sloths. This comparison is only appropriate during daylight hours. At night these creatures are very different animals.

During the day Slow Lorises move very slowly and precisely. Nonetheless, once the Sun has set they can cover distances of up to eight kilometres or more in a straight line. This does not include the distance spent ascending and descending trees.

Slow Lorises are highly territorial but like many aspects of this mysterious creature not much is known about how they socially interact with one another.

Supremely Adapted

As already mentioned one of the most arresting features of the Slow Loris is its large eyes. The eyes provide stereo vision and also contain a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum which allows them to see in extremely low levels of light.

To enable them to bite their prey and defend themselves they have sharp canine teeth.

Another interesting adaption concerns the capillary networks in both their hands and feet. These have adapted to be arranged in such a way as to avoid losing feeling in their limbs as they cling onto branches for hours at a time.

Both their hands and feet are capable of a vice-like grip and can hold the loris upside down for long periods of time without any discomfort.

Slow Loris Photo By Jmiksanek

Unlike most mammals, the spine of the Slow Loris is extra flexible which allows it to turn and twist in ways that other animals cannot. This is achieved by having extra vertebrae.

Slow Lorises have two tongues. The second tongue, or sublingua, is found underneath their tongue. It possesses serrated points that keep the teeth clean.

Threats To Slow Lorises

All of the five different species of the Slow Loris are listed as either ‘Endangered’ or ‘Vulnerable’. There are three main reasons as to why this is occurring. One is a loss of habitat while another is through the exotic pet trade. Superstition and ill-founded beliefs have also lead to the animal being in demand for traditional ‘medicine’.

Popular videos of Slow Lorises on YouTube had not helped the animal’s plight either.

Slow Loris Having Its Teeth Removed By An Animal Trafficker Photo By International Animal Rescue

Captured Slow Lorises endure horrific conditions. Their teeth are pulled out leaving them open to infection and disease. Over time captive Slow Lorises also lose their natural toxicity which also makes them vulnerable to disease and infection.

Vital Statistics

  • Slow Loris can be up to 40 centimetres (16 inches) in length.
  • They can weigh up to 2.1 kilogrammes (4.2 pounds).
  • Slow Loris can live to be up to twenty years old in captivity. It is not known how long they live in the wild.
  • They are found throughout South And Southeast Asia.


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