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, and lithe bodies. Or maybe it's just that living in trees 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

koala asleep in tree

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Few faces rival the cuteness of the koala, and each koala relies on only two species of eucalyptus tree leaves to support their nutritional needs. Despite all the leaves they eat, the low-nutrition diet of toxic eucalyptus leaves makes them sluggish. They typically sleep for at least 18 hours a day. Like most of the world's marsupials, koalas hail from Australia. Listed as vulnerable, habitat loss and deaths caused by vehicle collisions and dogs lead to decreasing numbers, with some researchers suggesting that fewer than 100,000 koalas remain.

2
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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 the trees of 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.

3
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Greater Glider

dark brown opossum like animal with large oval ears, the greater glider in a eucalyptus tree at night

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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 Red List of Threatened Species, habitat loss is a growing concern, particularly the loss of large old trees with hollows that the greater glider uses as shelter.

4
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Gecko

green gecko with red spots in banana tree

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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 is their incredible climbing ability, which is due to 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.

5
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Tarsier

a tarsier, small brown animal with long toes and big round eyes holding on to tree branch

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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 bat-like 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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Kinkajou

brown animal with rounded ears and pointy nose in thick foliage

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This ridiculously adorable critter might look like a type of ferret or, perhaps, a primate, but it is neither. 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 the tail can grasp things) and feet that can turn around to 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 percent of the kinkajou's diet. They're also relatively long-lived, capable of living 40-plus years.

7
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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.

Tree kangaroos might seem counterintuitive, but they're 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 it with their muscular hind legs. This motion allows the forelimbs to slide upward.

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

8
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Gibbon

gibbon hanging from branch of tree

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Gibbons, with their long arms, reduced thumbs (which better allows them to cup branches), 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.

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

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

9
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Tree Frog

silver grey tree frog with orange limbs clinging to underside of leaf

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

10
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Common Brushtail Possum

brushtail possum clings to tree

Andrew Mercer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Cape Genet on tree branch. Brown with dark spots and blotches on body, rings on tail, cat like ears and mouse like face

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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. Remember, wild animals are far more aggressive than the typical house cat. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you ever purchase a genet.

12
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Silky Anteater

silky anteater on end of branch with tail wrapped around the branch for safety

Quinten Questel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The silky anteater spends nearly its entire life in the trees. Found in Central and South America, silky anteaters are most often found in ceiba (silk-cotton) trees, which also could explain why their golden coats are so silken and beautiful. These animals are much different from terrestrial anteaters. They're tiny by comparison, for one, only 14 to 18 inches long, including their long prehensile tail that helps them navigate life in the trees.

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.

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Sloth

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. 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.