13 of the Cutest Tree-Dwelling Animals in the World

Two Javan tree frogs sitting on branch, Indonesia

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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 endearing. Common biological adaptations found in tree-dwelling animals help to explain their charm: those bushy tails, fluffy ears, grippy fingers, and lithe bodies. Or maybe it's just that they look to be having fun.

Here are 13 of the world's cutest, most charismatic tree-dwelling animals guaranteed to make you smile.

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koala asleep in tree

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Koalas rely on two species of eucalyptus leaves to support their nutritional needs, hence why they spend most of their time in tree canopy. What's more, their low-nutrition diet of toxic eucalyptus leaves makes them sluggish, and they are optimally cute while asleep in tree nooks where they can be found for 18-plus hours a day.

Like most of the world's marsupials, these adorable leaf-eaters hail from Australia. Koalas are listed as vulnerable because of habitat loss and deaths caused by vehicle collisions. Researchers suggest that as few as 100,000 mature koalas remain in the wild.

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Squirrel Monkey

cute brown and grey monkey on broken tree branch

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The charming squirrel monkey swings from trees in the subtropical rainforests of Central and South America. These primates offer more than looks: They're also smart. They 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 sought-after species in the illegal pet trade.

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Greater Glider

Greater glider sitting up in a tree at night

Mark Gillow / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

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.

These marsupials hail from Australia and eat mostly eucalyptus leaves, much like the koala. Listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, habitat loss is a growing concern—particularly the loss of large, old trees with hollows that the greater glider uses as shelter.

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Orange-spotted green gecko on a leaf

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These reptiles with their pint-sized dragon appearance start life as eggs laid in the bark and leaves of a tree. After they hatch, their long tails help them balance on the branches of the tree. The trait that geckos might be best known for, though, is their incredible climbing ability, courtesy of the adhesive qualities of their toes.

How they manage their gravity-defying feats remained a mystery until scientists discovered that they take advantage of weak molecular attractive forces.

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small brown animal with big round eyes holding onto tree

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Tarsiers' bodies exemplify how evolution ends up cute, with an extra-long tail, feet, and toes, which all add up to a primate uniquely suited for life in trees. Found on the islands of Southeast Asia, their enormous eyes can't rotate in their sockets, so the tarsier must swivel its head to look around.

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. Tarsiers are the only living species of primates that are entirely carnivorous. They're also known to feast on small birds, lizards, and even bats.

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brown animal with rounded ears in thick foliage

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This ridiculously adorable critter might look like a type of ferret or, perhaps, a primate, but it's neither. Kinkajous are related to raccoons. Found in Central and South America, these little-known animals have several unusual traits, including a prehensile tail for grasping and swiveling feet that can run as quickly backward as forward. Of course, all of these traits make them especially adept for life in the trees.

Though technically classified as carnivores due to their sharp teeth, fruit makes up 90% of the kinkajou's diet. The critters are also relatively long-lived, capable of living 40-plus years.

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Tree Kangaroo

brown tree kangaroo in tree

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When most people think of kangaroos, they think of the springy, land-based variety instead of the winsome arboreal tree kangaroo. Found in the rainforests of Australia and Papua New Guinea, they climb trees by wrapping their forelimbs around the back of a tree and hopping against it with their muscular hind legs. This motion allows the forelimbs to slide upward.

Like their land-based brethren, tree kangaroos are also incredible leapers. They jump from the trees as far as 60 feet to the ground without being hurt.

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Adult and baby gibbon in a tree

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Gibbons, with their long arms, branch-gripping reduced thumbs, and athletic bodies, swing among the trees like no other. The gibbon is the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling, non-flying mammals through their iconic way of moving through the world called "brachiation." Though they aren't the only primates to use this form of locomotion, they are probably the most adept at it.

Don't mistake gibbons for monkeys; they're more closely related to the great apes, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and humans.

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Tree Frog

tree frog clinging to underside of leaf

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 frogs, 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 and many of the world's amphibians are in steep decline due to chytridiomycosis, a deadly fungal disease.

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Common Brushtail Possum

brushtail possum clings to tree

Andrew Mercer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

These charismatic nocturnal marsupials are actually the largest of all possums, about the size of a house cat. Unlike many other forest animals, Australia's 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 in your yard tree could also be a boon.

Because they are largely solitary animals, encouraging a possum to claim your garden as its territory could help to keep other possums away. And besides, who could turn away such an adorable face?

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Cape Genet on tree branch at night

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Closely related to civets, these little tree-climbers hail from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Because they are feliforms, distant relatives to cats, they exhibit many of the same behavioral characteristics you might recognize from your pet feline. Also, like cats, genets 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 increasingly popular in the exotic pet trade.

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Silky Anteater

silky anteater perched on stump with tail wrapped around it

Quinten Questel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The aptly named silky anteater spends nearly its entire life in the trees. Found in Central and South America, these critters are most often found in ceiba (silk-cotton) trees, which also could explain why their golden coats are so delicate and beautiful.

Silky anteaters are tiny compared to terrestrial anteaters, only 14 to 18 inches long including their long prehensile tails. Though it has some intimidating claws, the silky anteater only really uses them for climbing and self defense. The animal is quite harmless when not being directly threatened.

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sloth that appears to be smiling hanging from tree branch

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Their hair is a bit bristly looking, but the smile and sweet demeanor make them irresistible tree-dwellers nonetheless. Sloths seem like the most content animal, leisurely going about their way, never in a rush. Their sedentary lifestyle is an adaptation to their diet, which consists mostly of low-calorie leaves. Moving so slowly helps 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 flood season in the Amazon basin, to reach new feeding grounds.

How Do Arboreal Animals Survive in Trees?

Not every animal is adapted to living much of its life suspended in tree canopy. The "high life" requires certain adaptations, such as:

  • Grippy and flexible feet, including adhesive or suctioning foot pads, swiveling ankle joints, hairless digits, and long claws
  • Long arms for arboreal locomotion
  • Prehensile tails that can wrap around and grasp like an extra arm
  • Patagia, membranous structures that stretch between extremities and act as wings for gliding and flying between branches
View Article Sources
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