13 of the Cutest Tree-Dwelling Animals in the World

Monkey
Photo: Kwiatek7/Shutterstock

You can find cute animals in most of nature's habitats, but there's just something about living in trees that makes arboreal creatures particularly Ewok-like. Common biological adaptations found in tree-dwelling animals help to explain their charm: those bushy tails, fluffy ears and agile bodies. Or maybe it's just that living in trees really is as much fun as it looks.

Here's our list of 13 of the world's cutest, most charismatic tree-dwelling animals. You're guaranteed to leave here with a smile.

1
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Koala

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Few faces rival the cuteness of the koala, and the way they hug those branches just adds to their snugliness. They're also a rather sleepy animal, since their low-nutrition diet of eucalyptus leaves makes them sluggish. In fact, they typically sleep for at least 18 hours a day. Like most of the world's marsupials, koalas hail from Australia. Although they aren't officially considered endangered, wild koala populations are under constant threat due to habitat loss from deforestation and development, and their numbers have dropped by as much as 90 percent in the last decade.

2
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Squirrel monkey

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There are a lot of cute monkeys to choose from, but squirrel monkeys might be the most memorable of them all. Hailing from Central and South America, these primates offer more than just looks: They're also smart. In fact, they're known to have the largest brain-to-body-mass ratio of all the monkey species. That intelligence explains their endless curiosity, and helps them keep track of their intricate social relationships. Troops of squirrel monkeys are known to reach as many as 500 members.

Unfortunately, their charismatic nature also makes them a popular species in the illegal pet trade.

3
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Greater glider

Photo: David Cook/flickr

Similar to flying squirrels and flying phalangers (like the sugar glider), the greater glider can glide from tree to tree by spreading a specialized membrane that stretches between its elbows and ankles. But its most charming traits might be those big floppy ears and bushy tail. Greater gliders come in two shades, a sooty brown or a gray-to-white form. (You can decide which is more adorable.)

They are marsupials and hail from Australia and eat mostly eucalyptus leaves, much like the koala. Though they are not listed as a threatened species, habitat loss is a growing concern.

4
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Gecko

Photo: Natali Glado/Shutterstock

Usually it takes a reptile-lover to appreciate the cuteness of a lizard, but geckos might be the universal exception. Who wouldn't be enamored with that sly little smile?

Of course, it helps that many species of gecko are insectivorous, a diet that includes mosquitoes. So wherever they're plentiful, geckos are rarely considered pests; they're a welcome sight in many tropical households.

But the trait that geckos might be best known for is their incredible Spider-Man-like climbing ability, which is due to the adhesive qualities of their toes. How they manage their gravity-defying feats remained a mystery to science until relatively recently, when it was discovered that they take advantage of weak molecular attractive forces.

5
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Tarsier

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With their big eyes and curious ears, tarsiers might be the closest thing to a real-life mogwai. Found on the islands of Southeast Asia, these fluffy arboreal creatures are believed to be the last living examples of an ancient branch on the evolutionary tree of primates. In other words, they're relatively close cousins to us.

Their large eyes are an adaptation to being nocturnal. Their batlike ears also help them to navigate in the dark, and they use both these skills to track down their favorite food: insects. In fact, tarsiers are the only extant primates that are entirely carnivorous. They're also known to feast on small birds, lizards and even bats!

6
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Kinkajou

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This ridiculously adorable critter might look like a type of ferret or, perhaps, a primate, but it is actually neither. In fact, kinkajous are related to raccoons. Found in Central and South America, these little-known animals have several unusual traits, including a prehensile tail (which means it can grasp things with its tail) and feet that can turn around to run as easily backward as forward! Of course, all of these traits make them especially adept for life in the trees.

Though they are technically classified as carnivores due to their sharp teeth, 90 percent of the kinkajou diet is actually fruit. They're also relatively long-lived, capable of living 40-plus years.

7
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Tree kangaroo

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When most people think of kangaroos, they think of the springy, land-based variety that gets around by hopping. But can you imagine a kangaroo that lives almost entirely in the trees?

Tree kangaroos might seem counterintuitive, but they're actually remarkably well-adapted for their environment. Found in the rain forests of Australia and Papua New Guinea, they climb trees by wrapping their forelimbs around the back of a tree and hopping against the tree with their powerful hind legs. This allows the forelimbs to slide upward.

Like their land-based brethren, they are also incredible leapers. In fact, "incredible" doesn't even begin to describe it: They have been recorded jumping from the trees to the ground from as high as 60 feet without being hurt. Below is a video of a tree kangaroo and joey hopping among trees and platforms.

https://youtu.be/UAsf1yw_DAg

8
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Gibbon

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Gibbons are perhaps most recognizable for their iconic form of locomotion, called "brachiation." Though they aren't the only primates to use this form of locomotion, they are probably the most adept at it. Their long arms, agile bodies and reduced thumbs (which better allows them to cup branches) allow them to swing among the trees like no other. In fact, gibbons are the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling, non-flying mammals.

They're also pretty cute, and often sweet-natured to boot. In fact, most gibbons form monogamous pair bonds and share many of the same duties between males and females.

It can be easy to confuse gibbons for monkeys, but they're actually apes — more closely related to the great apes, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and humans.

The short video below shows a gibbon brachiating as only it can.

9
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Tree frog

Photo: Ricardo de Paula Ferreira/Shutterstock

Arguably the cutest of all amphibians, tree frogs are ideally adapted to life in the canopy. Though there are many different species of tree frog, most of them share some common traits. For instance, they're typically more slender than their pudgy, land-based brethren. They're also usually much smaller, which makes them all the more adorable. Long fingers and toes help them to grasp limbs, and the ends of their digits are often disc-shaped for added suction capabilities.

Unfortunately, tree frogs — like most of the world's amphibians — are in steep decline worldwide due to chytridiomycosis, a deadly fungal disease.

10
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Brushtail possum

Photo: Andrew Mercer/Wikimedia Commons

Adding to the list of adorable arboreal mammals from Australia, the brushtail possum is the epitome of cute. These charismatic nocturnal marsupials are actually the largest of all possums — about the size of a house cat.

Unlike many other forest animals, brushtail possums have adapted remarkably well to life in the urban environment, and are regularly encountered by humans, especially in suburban neighborhoods. They can occasionally be viewed as pests for this reason, but allowing a possum to take up residence on your property could also be a boon. Because they are largely solitary animals, encouraging a possum to claim your yard as its territory could help to keep other possums away. And besides, who could turn away such an adorable face?

11
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Genet

Photo: Guérin Nicolas/Wikimedia Commons

Closely related to civets, these little tree-climbers hail from Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Because they are feliforms, they are also distant relatives to cats, and carry many of the same behavioral characteristics you might recognize from your pet feline. Also like cats, they have retractable claws, a wily intelligence, and hunt for small rodents, birds and reptiles. If it's small and moves quickly, they like to chase it.

Due to many of these similarities with cats, genets have become popular in the exotic pet trade. But remember: These are wild animals, and are far more aggressive when compared to the typical house cat. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you ever take a genet on as a pet.

12
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Silky anteater

Photo: Quinten Questel/Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes also called the pygmy anteater, these animals are much different from terrestrial anteaters. They're tiny by comparison, for one. Plus they have prehensile tails, which helps them to navigate life in the trees. They're also ridiculously cute. Found in Central and South America, silky anteaters are most often found in ceiba (silkcotton) trees, which also could explain why their golden coats are so silken and beautiful.

Though it has some intimidating claws, the silky anteater only really uses them for climbing and self-defense. The animal is quite harmless when it's not being directly threatened.

13
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Sloth

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Sure, their hair is a bit nappy looking, but that smile and sweet demeanor makes them irresistible nonetheless. Sloths seem like the most content of all tree-dwelling creatures, leisurely going about their way, never in a rush. Though they might resemble primates, they're actually most closely related to anteaters. Their sedentary lifestyle is an adaptation to their diet, which consists mostly of low-calorie leaves. By moving so sluggishly, sloths conserve their energy.

Oddly, sloths might also be among the best swimmers of all tree-dwelling animals. They are known to regularly swim across rivers and streams, especially during the flood season in the Amazon basin, to reach new feeding grounds.