What is an Ai?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An ai is a type of sloth; Scrabble players may be familiar with the ai, as it is included on the list of official two letter words acceptable for play. Ais are found in a limited range in South and Central America; like many rainforest animals, they are suffering as a result of habitat depletion. These shy creatures can be challenging to find in the wild, and if you're interested in seeing one for yourself, you may want to visit a zoological park or a facility which rehabilitates sloths and other rainforest animals.


The formal name for the ai is Bradypus torquatus, but some people prefer to call them three-toed sloths or maned three-toed sloths, in reference to their distinguishing features. An ai has three powerful claws on each foot which help it to navigate through its arboreal home; the claws can also double as defensive weapons when the ai is threatened. The dense coat of the three-toed sloth is even denser around the head and neck, causing it to resemble a mane of hair.

The color of ais varies, because the animals host an assortment of creatures in their fur, including algae and insects. In theory, an ai is a rich marled brown, but the creatures often acquire a distinctly greenish tinge as a result of the algae which inhabits their hairs. They have long, trailing legs, small well formed heads, and very small tails which are typically tucked up in their fur. They use their lengthy limbs to swing about in the forest canopy, gathering pieces of foliage and twigs to feed themselves.

Like other sloths, the ai is specially developed for living in trees, and these creatures rarely descend to the ground. When they do, they sometimes have difficulty navigating, because their bodies are not adapted to walking; many ais drag themselves along the ground with their muscular forearms when they absolutely need to descend to earth. They also happen to be remarkably good swimmers, and some biologists have observed that the ai actually seems to rather enjoy swimming.

Many biologists are concerned about the fate of the ai and sloths in general because these animals are not well adapted to deal with habitat pressures. Despite their names, sloths are not necessarily slow, but they are certainly not as adaptable as many other animals, which can be a serious problem when their forests are decimated. It is hoped that safe territory for ais and other animals can be preserved through rainforest conservation programs and conservation education for the next generation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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