What are Some Arboreal Animals?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Arboreal animals are animals that spend most or all of their time in trees. Many of them exist, and some are quite famous — the koala, lemur, flying squirrel, New World porcupine, tree sloth, spider monkey, tarsier, leopard, orangutan, chameleon, gecko, fruit bat, and many tree frogs, snakes, birds, and lizards. Animals of this type live in all the forests of the world, but are the most common in tropical forests, where the lush foliage and the canopy level creates a veritable floor of trees and leaves. In the nooks and crannies of trees, water collects in small pools, providing a source of moisture for a whole mini-ecosystem.

The long tails of lemurs are used for both gribbing branches and providing balance in trees.
The long tails of lemurs are used for both gribbing branches and providing balance in trees.

To climb in trees consistently and without falling, arboreal animals display a wide variety of adaptations, many of them shared between them. These include lithe bodies, clawed or sticky feet, and prehensile tails. Some, like tree sloths, have huge claws that let them hang from trees without expending any energy whatsoever. Some tree sloths cling so tenaciously to trees that they continue hanging for days after death.

Sloths use long claws to grip on to branches and tree trunks.
Sloths use long claws to grip on to branches and tree trunks.

The primary biodiversity hotspots for arboreal animals are the world's four largest rainforests — the Amazon, Congo, Madagascar, and Southeast Asia. The reason for the evolution of the arboreal lifestyle is obvious — trees are rich in animals and fruits, and allow their occupants to avoid predators on the ground. In fact, some animals, such as sloths, are so fearful of the ground that if their offspring accidentally falls, they will avoid going down to recover them. In rainforests, thick tree branches often rise 100 ft (30 m) or more above the ground, providing ample room to live and eat. Some animals spend their entire lives jumping from tree to tree, never touching the ground.

Many animals, such as leopards, rest and dine in trees so as to avoid predators.
Many animals, such as leopards, rest and dine in trees so as to avoid predators.

One of the most interesting adaptations displayed by arboreal animals are stretchy membranes between their legs or toes that allow for extensive gliding. While flight has only evolved independently four times in the history of nature (insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats), gliding has evolved dozens of times. Some gliding animals include the flying squirrel (found across Eurasia and North America, American species rarely seen due to their nocturnal lifestyle), flying frogs (a trait which has evolved independently in more than 3,400 species), and Draco lizards, which can glide for up to 100 m (328 ft) under optimal conditions.

A red-eyed tree frog.
A red-eyed tree frog.
Birds are believed to be descended from tree-dwelling dinosaurs.
Birds are believed to be descended from tree-dwelling dinosaurs.
Koalas live in eucalyptus trees.
Koalas live in eucalyptus trees.
Chameleons are arboreal animals.
Chameleons are arboreal animals.
Orangutans are arboreal animals that live in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Orangutans are arboreal animals that live in Malaysia and Indonesia.
A green tree python.
A green tree python.
The sloth is an example of an arboreal animal.
The sloth is an example of an arboreal animal.
Bats are one of the few examples of the evolution of flight.
Bats are one of the few examples of the evolution of flight.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

anon312236

This was really helpful. Oh, and save the rainforest! By the way, you should look up red pandas even though they live in the taiga.

JackWhack

I'm a little surprised that tree frogs are arboreal animals, because even though they have the word “tree” in their name, I frequently see them hanging out in other locations. My pond is just full of them, and they seem to gather there at twilight to sing noisy songs together.

I've also seen them clinging to the outside of my windows. I can see their little suction cups on their feet.

kylee07drg

Some bears are arboreal animals. I've read that certain kinds will build nests in trees and sleep there.

It's also common for bear cubs to sleep in trees. This keeps them from being vulnerable to predators.

feasting

@DylanB – Sugar gliders cannot be happy in a cage, even the big tower cages that people often keep them in. They cannot glide through the air very far at all.

One big drawback to owning a sugar glider is that they prey on small animals like birds and gross insects like spiders and grubworms. So, you have to feed them live food. I don't know if your son would be queasy about this or not, but for me, it was all it took to convince me not to get one.

They also like to suck on trees to get sap. Unless you have the means to grow a live tree in your home, you can't give him this opportunity.

DylanB

Does anyone here have any experience with sugar gliders? My son wants one of these arboreal animals, but since they live in trees in the wild, I don't see how it can survive in a small cage. I need information that will help me talk him out of getting one.

naturesgurl3

One of the most popular arboreal animals in captivity is the monkey!

These little guys are so cute, and many people can spend hours watching them at play.

It really makes you think though, to see how advanced their play and interaction is -- perhaps we're not so far from being arboreal animals ourselves!

CopperPipe

Many arboreal animals have very specific purposes and roles in their local ecosystem, kind of their own niche. All animals have their niche, but arboreal animals are unique in that they often serve to fill several niches, while other types of animals may only serve one or two purposes to their surrounding environment.

StreamFinder

Unfortunately, many arboreal animals are endangered because of deforestation and urban crawl.

Although there are many organizations that focus on saving arboreal animals, it's still easy for people to forget how serious the situation is.

So remember people, once an animal's extinct, it's not coming back.

Do your part to save animals from extinction.

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