Scandentiatree shrews

Like elephant shrews, tree shrews have often been considered a divergent family of Insectivora. They differ from members of that order, however, in possessing complete auditory bullae and zygomatic arches. Their orbits are large, and behind the orbit is a well-developed and complete postorbital bar. Some investigators have suggested that they might also be related to Primates. Here, we follow Anderson and Jones (1984) and place them in their own Order, Scandentia. The order contains one family (Tupaiidae) containing 5 genera and around 19 living species.

Tree shrews are remarkably squirrel-like in external shape and size, and in fact I have seen them in pet stores being sold as Asian squirrels. Even the tail of most species is squirrel-like, long and heavily furred. They lack the long vibrissae of squirrels, however, and their forefeet are also rather different, having a full complement of 5 functional toes rather than 4, as in squirrels.

The dental formula of tupaiids is 2/3, 1/1, 3/3, 3/3 = 38. Their upper incisors tend to be canine-like, but the upper canines are molar-like. The molars are broad and resemble many Insectivora in having a dilambodont cusp pattern.

Tree shrews are omnivorous. Their eyes are large and their hearing is excellent. They are often active during the day. They may be found in trees or on the ground. Socially, some species are solitary, others are found in pairs or even small groups. Tree shrews are found in deciduous forests of central and southeastern Asia, but they do not occur on New Guinea or in Australia.

Literature cited and references

Schlitter, D. A. 1993. Order Macroscelidea. Pp. 829-830 in Wilson, D. E. and D. M. Reeder (eds). Mammal Species of the World. Second Edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vii+576 pp.

Yates, T. L. 1984. Insectivores, elephant shrews, tree shrews, and dermopterans. Pp. 117-144 in Anderson, S. and J. K. Jones, Jr. (eds). Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, N.Y. xii+686 pp.


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate