They’re what allow monkeys and apes to climb trees so well, and they’re part of the reason we as humans have advanced so far. Opposable thumbs are a physical adaptation that have allowed us to survive and thrive in our habitats. In this article lets take a look at 10 animals that have opposable thumbs. Some you know, and some may surprise you!
List of 10 different animals with opposable thumbs
They are called “opposable” thumbs because they can bend and move in a way that allows them to touch other fingers and grasp onto things, like tools or tree branches. Here’s a list of 10 animals with opposable thumbs along with a picture of each and some info about them like where they can be found.
Humans use their thumbs constantly in everyday life. Our thumbs allow us to perform very delicate tasks and use a variety of tools. Our intelligence coupled with our precision use of our thumbs and fingers have made it possible for us to keep pushing the limits of technology over the centuries.
Where humans can be found: Humans are found on all continents on earth. Although we are able to survive in remote areas with extreme climates like tundras and deserts, we mostly stick to temperate or warm places suitable for a comfortable life.
Chimps have both opposable thumbs and big toes so they are able to grasp branches with both hands and feet. Their hands are much longer and narrower than humans creating a greater distance from the thumb to the other fingers. While our hands are adapted for manipulating small objects with precision, theirs are better suited for holding branches and climbing trees.
Where chimpanzees can be found: Chimpanzees are considered endangered with only about 300,000 left in the wild today. They have a distribution of over 1.6 million square miles, the most of any great ape. They are found in certain regions of Africa including Uganda and Tanzania.
Gorillas are able to climb trees like chimps and other apes but live on the ground in communities. As a result, gorilla hands and feet look a little closer to humans. Here’s an image comparing primate hands and feet. Gorillas are 1 & 2 and chimps are 3 & 4
Where gorillas can be found: All 4 species and subspecies of gorillas are found in the Congo River Basin, which is the location of most of Africa’s few remaining jungles. Gorillas are herbivores and here they have plentiful food.
Orangutans are red-haired apes that spend the majority of their time up in trees. Like other great apes orangutans have both opposable thumbs and toes. However unlike other great apes, orangutans do no live in groups. Females will live with her young but males typically live by themselves.
Where orangutans can be found: Their range used to be much wider but now they are only found in the rain forests of the 2 Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Northern Sumatra
Baboons and other old world monkeys, such as Colobus monkeys, also have opposable thumbs. Old world monkeys like baboons have tails but they aren’t prehensile (tails that are able to grasp and hold objects). New world monkeys like the Capuchin monkey not only have opposable thumbs but also prehensile tails.
Where baboons can be found: These ground-dwelling monkeys live in open woodland areas in northern Africa. Some species can be found in Saudi Arabia. Baboons are omnivorous and highly social, living in packs of up to 150.
Koalas have 2 opposable thumbs on each front paw, and 1 opposable toe on each foot for a total of 6 opposable digits. They live in tall eucalyptus forests and the extra two opposable thumbs help them keep their grip on branches. Koalas spend most of their lives in the trees and most of the time only come down to the ground if looking for a new tree that provides a better food source.
Where koalas can be found: Koalas are only found in eastern Australia, and a few islands off of the southern and eastern coasts. Although they are not listed as endangered by Australia, their population has been devastated over the last century and there are estimated to be less than 100,000 koalas left in the wild.
Both the Red Panda and the Giant Panda have an opposable sixth front toe. This is a physical adaptation that allows them to grasp and eat bamboo shoots and leaves easily which is their primary diet.
Where pandas can be found: Giant Pandas are only found in remote areas of central China, as of 2014 there were 1864 left in the wild which is up from 1000 in the 1970s. There are also a few hundred more in captivity at zoos.
Red Pandas (pictured here) live in Nepal, northern Myanmar, central China, but primarily in the Eastern Himalayas. There are an estimated 10,000 living in the wild.
8. Brushtail Possum
Although many people are actually referring to the Virginia Opossum (below) when they say possum, this is an actual Brushtail Possum and they are native to Australia, but are also widespread in New Zealand. They feed mainly on leaves and insects and are considered to be pests by some.
Where possums can be found: Probably the most widespread marsupial in all of Australia, Brushtail Possums can be found in western and northern Australia, but are mostly concentrated to the east and southeast.
9. Virginia Opossums
Opossums, not to be confused with possums, are the only marsupials in North America. Their fifth toe on their hind leg is opposable and lacks a nail. They also have prehensile tales that they can use to hang upside down for short periods.
Where opossums can be found: The Virginia opossum, aka common opossum, is the only species of opossum found in the United States and most commonly associated with backyard wildlife within its range. Its range includes most of the eastern half of the country, as well as south into Mexico and Central America.
10. Waxy monkey tree frogs
The Phyllomedusa genus of tree frogs actually have opposable thumbs. There are about 30 species in this genus of tree frogs in the family Hylidae and they can be found in Central and South America. Their thumbs are a physical adaptation that help them climb.
Where waxy monkey tree frogs can be found: Waxy Monkey Tree Frogs live in South America, primarily Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. They produce a waxy like substance that coats their skin and protect them from the intense heat and sun in those regions.