Large tree shrews are the most terrestrial of all tree shrew (Scandentia) species. They live part of their lives in the trees of tropical rainforests, swamp forests, and secondary growth forests, but spend most of their time on the forest floor, which is their primary location for foraging. Large tree shrews have been found at elevations of 1000 m above sea level but most often occur in lowland forest areas. ("Ecoregions containing Large Tree Shrew", 2006; Emmons, 2000a)
On average, Tupaia tana weighs 198 grams and has a head and body length of 22 centimeters. Tupaia tana has an elongated snout that is longer than that found in other tree shrew species. The eyes are large and without lashes and the ears are hairless. The fur of large tree shrews is dark brown on the dorsal side and reddish-orange on the ventral side of the animal. Yellow stripes are present on each shoulder and a distinct black stripe is present down the midline of the back. The tail is bushy and quite short in comparison to the length of the rest of the body and in comparison to the tails of other tree shrews. The color of the tail varies between orange, yellow, and red depending on geographic location. As in most scansorial mammals, large tree shrews possess elongated claws used to hold on to branches and for digging. Canines are well-developed, but the teeth in general are non-specialized. Males and females are similar in size and appearance. ("Treeshrews", 2003; Emmons, 2000b; Emmons, 2000a; Sargis, 2001)
Large tree shrews form monogamous pairs, and it has been found that these bonds are “looser” than for most other tree shrews. Males initiate mating behavior and usually mate with the female with which they share the most territory overlap. (Emmons, 2000a)
Reproductive maturity for both females and males is reached at around one year of age, although a territory is usually established before this time. Peak breeding occurs between the months of August and November. Spherical nests constructed from woody fibers and surrounded by leaves are built on the ground, or between o.2 and 8 meters above ground in small trees or rotten stumps. Mates seem to not share the same nest. The mother almost always gives birth to two altricial young. The young are weaned after 25 to 33 days. (Emmons, 2000b; Emmons, 2000a)
All tree shrew species are said to have an “absentee” maternal care system. More observations need to be made, but there is strong evidence that large tree shrews have this kind of parental care system as well. After the young are born, the mother visits the nest every other day usually in the early morning. These encounters last for less than five minutes and it is at these times that the mother nurses her young. Following weaning, the mother calls her young to follow her to a new nest site where the young will continue to live without the mother (she will remain at the initial nest site). The first couple of days after weaning, the mother spends almost all of her time with her young and still invests much of her time with them thereafter. Tupaia tana has a somewhat reversed form of parental care from most other mammals in that there is little care before weaning, but much care after weaning. (Emmons, 2000a)
Tupaia tana is a diurnal, solitary species, and of all members of the family Tupaiidae, Tupaia tana is the most terrestrial. In general, individuals are found in the trees scanning the area for possible danger for relatively short periods of time. Large tree shrews are also among the least active of the tree shrews, resting occasionally throughout the day. Females are more active than males. Most of the large tree shrew's day (like most tree shrews) is spent foraging for food. Populations are dynamic, in that membership changes throughout the year. (Emmons, 2000b; Emmons, 2000b; Emmons, 2000a)
All individuals establish a territory that averages 300 to 600 square meters, with the male’s territory generally larger than that of females. Territory is marked by odor excreted from chin and anal scent glands. In Tupaia tana, territories more frequently overlap between individuals than in other tree shrew species. (Emmons, 2000b; Emmons, 2000a)
Large tree shrews have sensitive hearing. They also have large eyes that permit acute day vision, but are quite poor for night vision. There are no vibrissae on the face. The olfactory system is the most important in sensing the environment and for recognition. Young rarely vocalize, instead they use odor to identify their mother. Adults are not very vocal but chatter when alarmed from a close range and emit whistles when alarmed from a long distance. (Emmons, 2000a)
Tree shrews feed on a variety of foods including beetles, ants, spiders, cockroaches, crickets, and other invertebrates. They prefer earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, and beetle larvae. Foraging takes place almost exclusively on the ground. Tupaia tana is somewhat unique in that it finds much of its food under the first layer of soil by using its claws to dig and its snout to search. Fruit, when readily available, seems to be eaten more than previously thought but is still probably less than 30% of the diet. Fruit from fig trees is a popular choice. Tupaia tana is a fairly slow forager and has been known to return to the same area for several consecutive days to find food. Much foraging is done near a river or stream. Large tree shrews have a simple digestive system that lacks a caecum, consistent with their mainly arthropod diet. When eating fruit, individuals usually suck the juices out of the fruit without eating the pulp. They are known for their fiber-spitting behavior in which they spit out indigestible seeds and plant parts that they may accidentally ingest. Large tree shrews occasionally feed on small mammals and lizards. Maximum weight is most commonly achieved in September and November for females and in November and December for males. ("Treeshrews", 2003; Emmons, 2000a; Shanahan and Compton, 2000)
Tree shrews have many potential predators. Cats like marbled cats, leopard cats, and clouded leopards are among the only predators of adult tree shrews. Nestlings are more vulnerable. Birds of prey are the biggest threat to young. One study showed that yellow-throated martens were the most numerous predators during the day. Reptiles, civets, mongooses, and invertebrates, such as ants, also feed on nestlings. The nests of Tupaia tana are poorly hidden compared to those of other tree shrew species but are practically odorless, which makes them much harder for potential predators to find. Also, adult tree shrews vary the routes they take to their nest and are very cautious when entering and leaving their nest; this helps them to avoid predators and keep their nest site a secret. (Emmons, 2000a)
Large tree shrews help to maintain tropical, lowland forest regeneration through dispersing seeds.
There are no known adverse effects of Tupaia tana on humans.
Tupaia tana means ‘ground squirrel’ in Bahasa Indonesian. Recent research suggests that tree shrews share a common ancestor with primates and could help in piecing together the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens. ("Treeshrews", 2003; Emmons, 2000b)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Emmeline Miller (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor, instructor), Michigan State University.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
animals that live only on an island or set of islands.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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Emmons, L. 2000. Stealth Moms. Natural History, 109/9: 72-78.
Luckett, W. 1980. Comparative Biology and Evolutionary Relationships of Tree Shrews. New York: Plenum Press.
Meister, W., D. Davis. 2005. Placentation of the Terrestrial Treeshrew. The Anatomical Record, 132/4: 541-553.
Primmer, S. 2002. In Search of a Model Species for Aging Research: A Study of the Life Span of Tree Shrews. Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, 5/2: 179-201.
Sargis, E. 2001. The Grasping Behaviour, Locomotion and Substrate Use of the Tree Shrews Tupaia Minor and T. Tana (Mammalia, Scandentia). Journal of Zoology, London, 253: 485-490.
Shanahan, M., S. Compton. 2000. Fig-Eating by Bornean Tree Shrews (Tupaia spp.): Evidence for a Role as Seed Dispersers. Biotropica, 32/4a: 759-764.