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Arboreal Locomotion: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Did you know that there's a name for the way animals move through trees? It's called arboreal locomotion, and in this lesson, we'll take a look at examples of how different animals use this type of movement.

What is Arboreal Locomotion?

How do animals move? The first things that may come to your mind might be how they walk on the ground or swim through the water. What about the way they move through the trees? Many animals spend at least part of their time in the trees, and the way they move within a tree or between trees is called arboreal locomotion. ''Arboreal'' means something related to trees, and ''locomotion'' is another word for movement. Monkeys are a well-known example of an animal that uses arboreal locomotion, but there are many other species that have adapted to spend all or part of their time moving through trees.

Mammals

First, let's take a look at tree-going mammals. Primates are a significant example of arboreal mammals, and they have adapted several different methods of arboreal locomotion. Some, such as spider monkeys, have prehensile tails that they can use like another limb to swing through trees and keep their balance while walking on branches. Others, such as tarsiers, have strong leg and ankle muscles. They cling to tree trunks and move between trees by leaping. All primates use their flexible hands and feet to hold tight to branches as they walk.

Other mammals spend only some of their time in trees. Leopards, for example, spend a lot of time on the ground. However, they bring their prey into trees to keep it away from other predators, and they often sleep on tree branches. Leopards use their strong legs and claws to grip tree branches and trunks.

Finally, there are also smaller mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks. Rodents such as these also use their claws to grip branches, and their light weight makes it easier for them to climb straight up. Regardless of the species, most mammals move quadrupedally through trees. This means they walk on all fours. Some may swing or leap between trees, but walking is still the most common form of arboreal locomotion.

Leopards climb up on trees to hide prey and to sleep.
Leopard

Birds and Other Animals

When you think about bird movement, you probably think of flight. However, some species of birds also use arboreal locomotion. Woodpeckers dig their claws into tree trunks to keep their balance, and they move straight up the trunk using small hops. They can only move up, however, and have to fly to go back down. Some birds, such as the nuthatch, can go up and down. Nuthatches use one foot for balance and the other to climb, which means they can move along the trunk in any direction.

Lizards in trees use their claws to grip in much the same way as birds. They also have wide pads on their feet to grip branches, and some species, such as the chameleon, have prehensile tails. Amphibians, namely tree frogs, do not have claws. Instead, they have pads on their toes (similar to those on the feet of lizards) that help them grip tree bark. When lizards and amphibians move, they walk on all fours the same way as mammals do.

Chameleons and other lizards use their claws and the pads of their feet to grip branches.
Chameleon

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