There are all sorts of animals that can climb trees. Some do it for fun, some to escape predators, and some to find food. Whatever the reason, it’s always impressive to see an animal climbing a tall tree!
But which animals can do it? Read on to discover some animals that have mastered the art of tree climbing and what makes their climbing abilities so impressive.
Koalas, often called ‘koala bears,’ are among the most famous tree climbers. These marsupials can sleep up to 18-20 hours a day and often spend much of their time perched on tree branches. Koalas are often found on eucalyptus trees since they are known to feed primarily on eucalyptus leaves. They have razor-sharp claws that help them easily climb the trunks. They also use these claws for gripping onto branches when they’re sleeping up high, helping them stay safe from predators on the ground. The strong cartilaginous pad at the end of their curved spine allows them to wedge longer between the rough eucalyptus tree branches. Moreover, koalas hug trees to lower their body temperature.
You’ve probably already seen monkeys swinging from one tree to another. These mammals climb trees for food and protection. But how are their bodies adapted to climbing trees? Monkeys can climb trees thanks to their bone structure, which is much more flexible than that of humans. These primates also have long arms, legs, and opposable thumbs, which allow them to hang on branches for long periods without losing their grip or getting tired. Their ability to wrap their tails on tree branches like a string enables them to hang and swing without falling.
Another adept tree climber is the possum. Possums are nocturnal, arboreal animals thanks to their long, pointed claws that allow them to cling to branches.
Moreover, they use their prehensile tails to hold onto branches and keep their balance. They also have flexible hind feet with foot pads that help them climb up and down trees quickly.
Myth: If you get chased by a bear, climb a tree! Contrary to this belief, there are better options for escaping a bear than climbing a tree. Bears, particularly black bears, can easily climb trees in pursuit of their prey. They have 2-inch curved claws they use for climbing. They also have strong arm muscles that help propel them upwards. Black bears can climb trees headfirst!
While bears prefer to forage on the ground and in bushes, their climbing skills give them an advantage over other animals. Black bears are also good at arboreal combat and can easily outmaneuver their opponents in a tree. Grizzly bears may not be good climbers, but they can follow prey on trees if needed.
Tree-kangaroos, sometimes called tree wallabies, are well adapted for arboreal locomotion. These marsupials are native to the tropical rainforests of New Guinea and northeastern Queensland, Australia. Of all species in the Macropodidae family, tree-kangaroos are considered the only true arboreal macropods.
Unlike other terrestrial kangaroos, the tree-kangaroo lifestyle involves climbing trees thanks to their long, wide back feet, sponge-like paw grip, and long, curved nails.
Tree-kangaroos have long, slender tails used for maintaining balance. When climbing trees, they wrap their forelimbs around the trunk and use their hind legs to propel them upward.
6. Moroccan Goats
A trip to southwest Morocco will give you a glimpse of an eye-catching phenomenon, the tree-climbing goats. The Moroccan goats are well known for their tree-climbing skills. They can scale vertical surfaces such as cliffs and even trees to reach food or higher ground. In addition to their agility, they possess sharp hooves enabling them to grip and cling to surfaces. Moroccan goats’ favorite tree is the argan tree (Argania Spinosa), which they climb to feed on argan fruits.
7. Tree Frogs
Tree frogs possess adhesive toe pads that help them stick to surfaces. They typically use these sticky pads to climb tree trunks, branches, and leaves. Additionally, tree frogs have extraskeletal structures in their toes that aid in climbing. The toes’ last bone (the terminal phalanx) is curved and shaped like a claw, making it easier to grasp onto branches. Tree frogs can also change the angle of their toes to grip branches better. This enables them to climb quickly and efficiently.
8. Tree squirrels
Tree squirrels belong to a group of animals called Sciuridae, which includes ground squirrels, flying squirrels, and chipmunks. Tree squirrels are typically found in forests and wooded areas; they use their long and sharp claws to help them move quickly from tree to tree. If they feel threatened, they use trees as a refuge and climb them in circles to confuse their predators.
Tree squirrels descend trees headfirst. They rotate their ankles 180 degrees to allow their hind paws to point backward. This helps them grip the tree trunk as they descend. They also use their claws to break open nuts and other hard shells, giving them access to various food sources.
This may come as a surprise, but alligators can actually climb trees. While no one is sure why these reptiles climb trees, they have been occasionally caught on camera perched on sturdy branches. Some people believe that body temperature regulation may be a factor. Alligators are ectotherms, meaning their body temperature depends on the outside temperature.
Alligators are believed to use their powerful tails and claws to climb vertically.
Orangutans are among the most accomplished climbers in the animal kingdom. They can easily climb even the tallest trees with their long, strong arms and wide shoulders adapted to gripping tree branches and twisting and turning in dense forests. They move from branch to branch by shifting from side to side.
These primates can even descend headfirst from trees by using their arms as brakes. Orangutans often use trees for safety and feeding reasons. They can easily reach the top of the tree canopy, where they can munch on fruits, leaves, bark, and flowers.
Kinkajous are agile tree climbers that use their long, prehensile tails to navigate through tree branches easily. They have strong limbs and sharp claws that help them grip the bark and move quickly through dense forests. They can also rotate their hind ankles to climb down trees headfirst.
Cats are excellent climbers and may climb trees to hunt, hide from predators, or just for fun. They have sharp claws that act as hooks, allowing them to grip any surface. Cats are also very agile and have a good sense of balance, making it easy for them to traverse tree branches. Moreover, cats have flexible spines that allow them to turn around quickly and easily, thus facilitating climbing.
Closely related to the great apes, gibbons are the fastest and most agile of all the tree-climbing animals. They use the brachiation technique to move quickly and gracefully through the trees. They have long, thin arms and branch-gripping reduced thumbs, allowing them to cling to branches easily. Their athletic bodies help them climb with tremendous speed and agility, as well as hang upside down from branches.
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- Fauna Facts, Available here: https://faunafacts.com/animals/animals-that-climb-trees/#20_Koalas
- Project Learning Tree, Available here: https://www.plt.org/educator-tips/animals-live-trees
- Youth Time, Available here: https://youth-time.eu/few-animals-that-can-actually-climb-trees/
- The National Wildlife Federation, Available here: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Amphibians/Tree-Frogs