Arboreal animals are animals that spend most of their lives in trees, otherwise referred to as animals that live in trees. They sleep, play, and eat in trees and have evolved special traits suited to this lifestyle. There are multiple examples of arboreal animals, each with their own unique adaptations such as grasping claws or special tails that allow them to be strong climbers.
This article will cover 14 examples of arboreal animals and describe their unique characteristics for spending time in trees. Let’s learn more about how they’ve evolved for this lifestyle!
14 Examples of Arboreal Animals
Here are 14 tree-dwelling animals with unique attributes. Some are well-known, but others might surprise you how they manage to survive high above the ground.
Scientific name: Phascolarctos cinereus
Koalas are marsupials native to Australia, living in the coastal areas of the eastern and southern mainland. You can find them on eucalyptus trees, where the leaves make up most of their diet and they sleep for up to 20 hours daily. They have fluffy ears, spoon-like noses, and grow around 24 to 33 inches long.
These animals have powerful legs and arms with sharp claws to help them climb trees. They have two opposable thumbs each front paws, which allow for better grip. This is especially helpful on smooth-barked trees like the eucalyptus.
2. Black spider monkeys
Scientific name: Ateles paniscus
Black spider monkeys are primates, and are also known as the red-faced or Guiana spider monkey. They are one of the largest primates in South America and are commonly found in eastern countries north of the Amazon River. These monkeys grow around 16 to 24 inches tall and weigh between 15 to 19 pounds.
To adapt to their arboreal lifestyle they have special long prehensile tails, also known as “gripping” tails. These tails act as a fifth limb they can use to climb, hold objects, and gather food with. The black spider monkey’s tail is between 24 to 32 inches long.
3. Siamang Gibbon
Scientific name: Symphalangus syndactylus
Although they are primates and look like monkeys, gibbons don’t have tails. Instead, they have long arms that allow them to adapt to tree-living. The siamang gibbon uses its arms to swing between trees, an ability scientists call brachiation. Animals that can brachiate also have short spines, long curved fingers with fingernails instead of claws, and wrists that can easily rotate.
These animals are not classified as monkeys but are considered lesser apes due to their smaller size when compared to gorillas or orangutans. Out of all gibbon species, the siamang gibbon is the largest, growing 3.3 feet tall and weighing up to 31 pounds. They are black-furred and native to forests in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
4. Three-toed Sloth
Native to Central and South America, the three-toed sloth family consist of the brown-throated sloth, the maned sloth, the pale-throated sloth and the pygmy three-toed sloth. They are set apart from other sloths because they have three-toes instead of two, and are good swimmers.
Sloths have large curved claws and muscles geared towards not only strength but stamina, that help them keep a continuous strong grip on branches. The muscles used for gripping and pulling are much stronger than those used for pushing. This results in them not being well suited to support their own body weight walking on the ground, but being excellent at hanging in trees.
Scientific genus: Potos flavus
Although kinkajous look similar to monkeys, they are actually more closely related to raccoons. These mammals are also sometimes called honey bears because of how they use their long tongues to extract honey from beehives or get termites from nests. They typically weigh between 3 to 7 pounds and are 17 to 22 inches long.
Kinkajous have clawed feet to anchor onto trees and prehensile tails that they use to find balance when hanging from branches. They also use their long tails of up to 22 inches as a blanket to sleep at night.
6. Rough green snake
Scientific name: Opheodrys aestivus
The rough green snake is a bright green, long, slender snake growing around 32 inches. They are one of the truly arboreal snake species in the southeastern U.S, including Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Florida.
These nonvenomous snakes use muscle strength to help them grip and climb trees. They also have rough scales on their bodies that assist them in climbing.
7. Veiled Chameleons
Scientific name: Chamaeleo calyptratus
While there are no native chameleons in North America, the veiled chameleon is a species from the Arabian Peninsula that can also be found in Florida. Males are bright green with bands of bold yellow mixed with black, orange, or blue. Females are duller green with orange, white, or yellow mottling.
Chameleons have an amazing ability to climb trees because of the ball-and-socket joints in their ankles and wrists. This special joint allows them to have greater rotational abilities to aid in mobility. They have tong-shaped feet specialized for gripping narrow or rough branches.
8. Common brown lemurs
Scientific name: Eulemur fulvus
Common brown lemurs are greyish-brown or brown-furred animals with dark faces and amber eyes. They can grow between 33 to 40 inches in body length, including a 16 to 20-inch tail.
These animals nimbly move through trees using their hands and feet to grip onto branches. Although they can’t grip with their tails, they do use their tails to maintain balance especially when jumping or climbing.
9. Matschie’s tree kangaroo
Scientific name: Dendrolagus matschiei
Unlike the common hopping, ground-dwelling kangaroos of Australia, tree kangaroos are stouter and can independently move their back legs for stability to balance on branches. These animals also have strong claws for gripping as well as a low center of gravity and long tails to support balance.
You can find the Matschie’s tree kangaroo in the cloud forests of New Guinea, on mountains with elevations up to 11,000 feet. They grow around 37 to 70 inches and can live up to 20 years.
10. Southern Flying Squirrel
Scientific name: Glaucomys volans
The southern flying squirrel is one of three species of flying squirrels found in North America. They are 10 to 12 inches in length and grayish-brown.
These animals have a unique ability to glide or “fly” between trees using a membrane between their back and front legs. They spread their limbs to expose the gliding membrane that helps them steer. They can cover over 150 feet in one glide!
11. Banded geckos
Scientific name: Coleonyx variegatus
The banded gecko can be found from southern California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona down to Baja California and Mexico. They are small lizards, usually under 3 inches long with mottled and banded patterns on their body.
Like most gecko species, they have toes padded with hundreds of small hairs called setae. This padding creates a force that has a sticky effect, allowing them to defy gravity and hang from multiple surfaces. Scientists have even found that geckos can turn their sticky feet on and off when climbing.
12. Liguus Tree Snails
Due to the wide variety of colors and patterns found on their shell, the liguus tree snail is known as the “living jewel”. Liguus tree snails can be found in southern Florida, the Florida keys and northern Cuba.
These snails create a sticky mucus that allows them to climb smooth surfaces, such as tree trunks, branches, and leaves. The mucus acts like glue to keep them in place. However, when the snail applies pressure hard enough, the mucus becomes more liquid so the snail can move forward.
13. Green iguana
Scientific name: Iguana iguana
The green iguana is one of the larger iguana species, growing between 3.9 to 5.6 feet long from head to tail. They typically weigh around 8.8 pounds but males can grow over 18 pounds and 6.6 feet long. Their coloring is also not only green, as they can be lavender, reddish-brown, black, or bluish with blue markings.
These lizards have powerful limbs and claws that allow them to clasp branches and easily climb. They also aren’t afraid of heights because they can fall up to 50 feet and land unhurt. This ability allows them to leap from branches when they feel threatened. However, they often will jump into the water from trees to escape predators since they are also very good swimmers.
Scientific name: Panthera pardus
Leopards are also considered arboreal animals since they have an amazing ability to climb trees. You can commonly see this animal lounging on a tree branch with their limbs hanging down. In fact, they are so comfortable spending time in trees they can hunt from trees and often haul their prey into the branches to feed.
These animals are noticeable by their light-colored bodies with dark spots. The pattern allows them to stay camouflaged in trees, especially at night when they hunt. They typically feed on deer, antelopes, and pigs. Most adults grow between 4.25 to 6.35 feet long with tails around 3.5 to 4.5 feet long.