An Exploration Of Arboreal Animals And The Physical Adaptions That Help Them Live In The Trees
You may have heard the term arboreal, and wondered what exactly does this mean? Well, the term ‘Arboreal‘ by definitiion means ‘living in trees‘. Arboreal animals don’t have to spend their entire lives off the ground, but the term is used to describe animals that live primarily in trees.
This is a lifestyle choice that some species have adapted to due to the advantages it can provide. Arboreal animals are well-adapted for living at heights, and may develop a range of physical attributes such as strong claws, long limbs, and agile bodies to make climbing easier.
So what are the advantages that Arboreal animals receive from living in the trees, and which animals can we consider to be arboreal? Let’s explore!
Advantages Of Being An Arboreal Animal
Being arboreal has several advantages over living on the ground, particularly for animals that would otherwise be prey species on terrestrial ground.
One of the most obvious benefits is that arboreal animals have access to a wide variety of food sources not available to their terrestrial counterparts, such as fruits, nuts, leaves and insects. Foliage provides a diverse source of nutrition with less competition and risk, making it easier for arboreal animals to obtain a balanced diet.
Arboreal animals also have access to more protection from predators than those living on the ground. Tree branches and foliage provide more places to hide and escape when a predator is nearby, which increases their chances of survival. Additionally, most large predators cannot climb trees as easily as arboreal animals, giving them a distinct advantage in escape.
15 Examples Of Arboreal Animals
Many species of animals are arboreal, and here is an example of some of the diverse range of animals that call the trees their home.
Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris)
The Red Squirrel is a species of tree squirrel frequently found throughout Eurasia. While they used to be very abundant in the UK, numbers there declined dramatically after the Grey Squirrel was introduced. The latter is an invasive species and brought across disease which has ravaged the Red Squirrel population across the country.
The Red Squirrel has a very long tail, and it is thought this helps the squirrel to balance and steer when jumping from tree to tree and running along branches. It may also keep the animal warm during sleep.
These arboreal rodents spend the vast majority of their time in the trees, other than when burying or hiding food. The trees provide most of their food and shelter. They mostly eat the seeds of trees, neatly stripping conifer cones to get at the seeds inside. They will also happily eat fungi, birds eggs, berries and young shoots.
Sloths (Three toed – Bradypodidae, Two Toed – Megalonychidae)
Sloths are medium-sized mammals that live in the Central and South American rainforests. There are two different genus, the two toed and the three toed, of which there are various species and sub species.
One common feature across the different genus of sloth, are their razor sharp claws. They use these claws to hang from trees, where they spend the vast majority of their lives. The sloth is about as arboreal as an animal can get, only coming down to earth briefly around once per week to defecate and mark territory.
They are usually found high up in the tree canopies within their rainforest habitats, and move very, very slowly. Their slow movement is often a saving grace, preventing them from being spotted by potential predators. If they are spotted, their only method for defence is their claws, which are exceptional.
A sloths limbs are not developed for life on the ground, they are particularly weak for terrestrial life, with most of their muscle mass going to the limbs they use for hanging in the trees.
Other than when raising baby sloths, they tend to live rather solitary lives, and can be territorial.
Possum (Suborder: Phalangeriformes)
Possums, are marsupials of the suborder ‘Phalangeriformes‘, of which there are around 70 different species. These small to medium sized tree dwellers are native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi.
The name of this suborder comes from the Greek word phalanger, which means spider’s web, which is in reference to the fused digits on their hind feet.
Possums are both nocturnal and arboreal, and can expertly and with astonishing agility move through lofty trees. With the exception of when they are caring for baby possums, they mostly live alone. Ringtail possums however, prefer to live in family groups of three or more.
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
The Koala is an important and symbolic animal in their native Australia, mostly located in forested areas around Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. They prefer eucalyptus forests, coastal regions and moist woodlands and spend most of their time up in the trees sitting on branches either napping or eating the leaves.
These arboreal marsupials are thick-set animals with thick, soft, wool-like ash-grey colored coats with white underparts.
Koalas have an excellent sense of balance which means they are well suited to life in the trees. Their lean, muscular bodies help support their weight when climbing up a tree. Their climbing strength comes from their thigh muscles joining their shins much lower than in other animals.
Red Slender Loris (loris tardigradus)
The Slender Loris is a small animal, with a body length between 7–10 inches, long, slender arms and legs and a small, vestigial tail. There are two subspecies of Red Slender Loris, L. t. tardigradus and L. t. nycticeboides. These, along with the Grey Slender Loris are all part of the family Lorisidae.
These small nocturnal animals are native to the rainforests of Sri Lanka and Southern India. They spend most of their day curled up in a ball sleeping, in the crook of a branch or in a hollow tree.
The Red Slender Loris differs from the Grey variant in its frequent use of rapid arboreal movement through the trees. They favor lowland rainforests, but are also found in scrub forests, semi-deciduous forests and swamps too.
Woodpecker (Family: Picidae)
The woodpecker is a bird that is most well-known for its ability to drill holes in trees. They are found in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and North America. There are three subfamilies within the Woodpecker family ‘Picidae’. Across these subfamilies there are 35 ‘genera’ and around 250 ‘species’ of Woodpecker.
In many cultures, Woodpeckers are considered to be good luck birds. They have been credited with bringing wealth, fertility, happiness, healing power, and protection from bad spirits or bad luck.
These arboreal birds are most populous and diverse in tropical rainforests or dense wooded areas. However, they can adapt to most environments, even grasslands and dessert, as long as their are a few trees.
Rainforest Parrots (Psittaciformes)
Rainforest Parrots, such as the Blue and Yellow Macaw, the Scarlet Macaw or the Mealy Parrot are all arboreal birds by nature. These Rainforest Parrots are most common throughout the tropical rainforests of South America and Central America, as well as some of the surrounding islands. Their usual habitats are the emergent layers and canopy layers of the rainforest.
Depending on the species, they can be both a plant eater and a meat (insect) eater. While many birds are good at dispersing seeds, all Rainforest Parrots are seed predators, meaning they destroy the seeds that they eat and do not disperse them.
Parrots, unlike most other birds, do not build nests. They raise their young in tree hollows or excavate holes in banks, cliff faces or termite mounds.
Silver Monkeys (Cercopithecus doggetti)
Silver monkeys are both diurnal and arboreal. Like most of their relatives in the Cercopithecidae family, they live in groups with one dominant male and his female harem. Grooming develops bonding between offspring and female adults.
It is thought that these Old World Monkeys might be an important species in seed dispersal due to their frugivorous and folivorous nature.
Spectacled Bears (Tremarctos ornatus)
The Spectacled Bear is also sometimes known as the ‘Andean Bear’ because it lives in the Northern Andes Mountains across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and into Chile. It is the only living bear species native to South America, and one of the most endangered types of bear in the world.
They are called Spectacled Bears because of the large white circles or semicircles of white fur around their eyes giving them the appearance of wearing spectacles. Because of the warm climate where they live, their fur is reasonable thinner than most other bear species and they do not have to hibernate.
They are arboreal and nocturnal creatures, with expert climbing skills. This comes in handy as they spend a great deal of time foraging in trees. Their survival is highly dependant on the ability to climb even the tallest trees of the Andes forests. Once the bears are up in the trees, they often build feeding platforms from broken branches. The bears use these platforms to reach for more food.
During the day, if not in the trees, Spectacled Bears take shelter in caves, under tree roots or on tree trunks.
New World Monkeys (Parvorder: Platyrrhini)
New World Monkeys is the term given to the 5 families of monkeys that live in the ‘New World’ across most of South, and Central America. Together, these 5 families of Callitrichidae, Cebidae, Aotidae, Pitheciidae and Atelidae make up the Parvorder – ‘Platyrrhini‘. There are around 100 species of New World Monkeys divided into these families.
Unlike Old World Monkeys, of which many are both arboreal and terrestrial, New World Monkeys are all arboreal. They differ from other groups of monkeys and primates, and their noses in particular is the most commonly used feature to distinguish between the groups. The scientific name for New world monkey, Platyrrhini, means ‘flat nosed’, therefore their noses are flatter, with side facing nostrils, compared to the narrow noses of the Old World monkey.
Most New World Monkeys also have long prehensile tails that they use to move expertly through the tree canopies, often acting like a 5th limb.
Unlike most Old World monkeys, many New World monkeys form monogamous pair bonds and show substantial paternal care of young.
Crab-eating Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)
The Crab-eating Macaque, is also sometimes known as the ‘Cynomolgus Monkey’ or the Long-tailed Macaque. They are an arboreal Old World Monkey native to Southeast Asia. Not all Macaque monkeys are arboreal, with many spending as much time terrestrially as arboreally. But some, including the Crab-eating Macaque spend the vast majority of their time in the trees.
The Crab-eating Macaque is found in a wide variety of habitats, including primary lowland rainforests, disturbed and secondary rainforests and riverside and coastal forests of nipa palm and mangrove.
Although this monkey is often referred to as the Crab-eating Macaque, its diet is not limited to crabs. Other food items are in fact far more common. They are opportunistic omnivores, who are as likely to be found eating plants, leaves and flowers, as they are to be eating small lizards, frogs, fishes and bird chicks or eggs. They will raid a nest in the trees given the chance.
These are very social monkeys, often living in groups of anywhere between 5 and 60 individuals.
Orangutan (Genus: Pongo)
Orangutans are currently found in the wild only in rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, though historically their range was wide across Indonesia and Malaysia. There are two extant species of Orangutan within the genus ‘Pongo‘, and in both cases they sleep in trees as well as move through the trees in search of fruit.
Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes, spending nearly all of their time in the trees. They are diurnal too, so mostly active through the day. Every night they make nests, in which they sleep, from branches and foliage. They are more solitary than the other apes, with males and females generally coming together only to mate.
They are excellent tree climbers and spend a lot of time just hanging around with their incredibly long arms that reach down to their ankles. When they do venture down to the ground, they walk on all fours.
Kinkajou (Potos flavus)
The Kinkajou is also sometimes known as the ‘Honey Bear’, ‘Sugar Bear’, or ‘Cat Monkey’. They are a small rainforest mammal, native to Central America and South America.
This arboreal mammal is not particularly rare, though it is rarely seen by people because of its strict nocturnal habits. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but they are not related.
Kinkajous sleep in hollow trees. They spend most of their lives in the branches of trees, using their prehensile tail to grasp branches. While they are classed as a Carnivore, they actually have an omnivorous diet, of which fruit makes up the largest portion of what they eat. As such, they are a good pollinator species for the fruits that they eat.
They are sometimes kept as pets, but their behaviour can be unpredictable with violent outbursts that appear to come out of nowhere.
Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus)
The Common Palm Civet also known as the’ Asian Palm Civet’, is a cat-sized mammal that resides in the Southeast Asian tropical rainforests. Ranging from the Himalayas, across to the Philippines, the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian islands.
The common palm civet is solitary, nocturnal and arboreal, spending most of their day asleep in a tree hollow. These animals can be quite territorial, but despite this they are often found in parks and suburban gardens in addition to their tropical forest habitats. Especially where mature fruit trees and fig trees grow, and undisturbed vegetation.
Emerald Tree Boa (Corallus caninus)
Not all Boas are tree dwellers. Some of the more common, like the boa constrictor for example, are not considered to be arboreal. But there are a few genus within the ‘Boidae‘ family which are. Snakes within the genus ‘Sanzinia‘, or the genus ‘Corallus‘, are commonly referred to as Tree Boas, and one of these ‘Corallus caninus‘, is the Emerald Tree Boa.
These non venomous snakes are found living in the trees of the South American rainforests, particularly around Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela. They get their name from the color of their skin, which is a vibrant emerald green.
Emerald Tree Boas are generally solitary animals, spending most of their time high up in the tree canopies, where they hunt for small birds, arboreal frogs, rodents and small mammals. They are ambush hunters, so will remain very still, waiting for a good opportunity to grab their meal.