The Surprising Connection Between Sloths And Avocados

Smeared on overpriced toast and topped with poached egg, smashed as the star in guacamole, or sliced into fancy wedges with a little Everything But the Bagel Seasoning. No matter how you like your avocado, one thing is clear: Avocados are freaking delicious. This just isn't up for debate. Creamy, smooth, nutty, and buttery, this fruit's mild flavor is so pleasing and versatile, it's used in countless dishes from sweet puddings to savory dips.

Per Smithsonian Magazine, roughly 90% of avocados today grow in California (Hass, to be specific), but our love for avocados spans the globe, from Asia to Africa. In the Philippines, for example, you'll see tubs of calm, pastel green avocado ice cream right next to the chocolate and vanilla at local ice cream shops. In Ethiopia, fruit juices called "spris" layer papaya, avocado, and mango purée for a refreshing summertime beverage. And in Colombia, crema de aguacate combines avocado flavored with cream, cumin, and fresh cilantro to create a warm, bright soup (via The Daily Meal).  

Yet, the glory of avocados doesn't just end with your taste buds. They're also good for your heart. That's because they're high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to lower LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. Each bumpy-skinned fruit yields a list of vitamins and minerals a mile long.

So we're crazy about avocados. But, there's something we need to tell you about this beloved fruit. Per Atlas Obscura, if it weren't for giant extinct sloths, avocados may have never existed.

Pooping ancient sloths are the reason we have avocados today

You heard that right. An ancestor to everyone's favorite drowsy tree dweller, 15-foot sloth-like creatures from the Cenozoic era, called Lestodons, weighed several tons and chowed down on mostly vegetation, including tasty wild avocados.

Due to their oversized stature and similarly supersized digestive systems, Lestodons eagerly swallowed the fruit whole, per Refinery29. You know what that means. What goes in, must come out. Let the pooping commence! These giant sloths were pooping avocados all over South America. The more they defecated farther and farther away from an avocado's parent tree, the more the seeds were able to flourish and grow without competing for water and sunlight (via Smithsonian Magazine).

After the Lestodons were wiped out in the Pleistocene age, there weren't any mammals big enough to swallow our little avocado friends and disperse the seeds. Normally in this case, the seeds would be left to rot and die on the surface of the ground (via Inverse), especially because the fruit never morphed into something easily digested by smaller mouths and stomachs. But somehow our motivated fruit persisted. Prehistoric Aztec farmers fell in love with the fruit and began to cultivate it as a crop. According to Business Insider, they named it ahuacatl, meaning testicle, due to the way the avocados tended to grow in pairs on trees. Now, if you're anything like us, you're thinking of prehistoric farmer boys giggling and sketching a pair of ahuacatl during hunting class, too.