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Mammals in the Trees

Image: cotton-top tamarin at the Biodôme
cotton-top tamarin at the Biodôme

In the tropical forests of South and Central America, many mammals climb the trees. There are different felines, like jaguars and ocelots, as well as animals related to racoons, called kinkajous, olingos and coatis, as well as anteaters and porcupines with prehensile tails, to mention just a few.

In Asia and Africa, many monkeys live in the trees, although some, baboons for instance, prefer to remain on the ground. In the tropical forests of the New World, all the monkeys are tree dwellers, and very rarely come down to the ground.

Image: sloth at the Biodôme
sloth at the Biodôme

Sloths are also tree-dwelling mammals, but look and act quite differently from monkeys. They live only in tropical climates in the Americas. They can be hard to spot, too, since they spend 15 to 18 hours a day sleeping.

Image: skull, hand and foot of a tamarin
skull, hand and foot of a tamarin

What Is a Monkey?

Main characteristics:

  • Relatively large brain.
  • Seven cervical vertebrae.
  • 32 or 36 teeth.
  • Teeth appear in two stages: baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth.
  • Forward-facing eye sockets, for binocular vision.
  • Better sense of sight than smell.
  • Five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot.
  • Able to grasp objects or hang onto branches with hands or feet.
  • Many monkeys in the American tropics have prehensile tails, which they use as a fifth limb.
  • Many monkeys have thumbs opposed to their other digits.
  • Flat fingernails and toenails rather than claws, in most cases.
  • Constant body temperature.
  • Diurnal, except for one species, the douroucouli (Aotus trivirgatus)
  • 145 known species of monkeys.

Image: monkeys worldwide
monkeys worldwide

Monkeys worldwide


  • Monkeys of the American tropics.


  • Monkeys of Africa and Asia.

Image: spider monkey
spider monkey


  • Noses with broad nostrils, pointed to the sides.
  • Often with prehensile tails.

Image: orang-otang


  • Noses with close-set nostrils, pointed downward.
  • Tails are never prehensile.
  • Humans are also members of this group.

Image: skull and hand of a sloth
skull and hand of a sloth

What Is a Sloth?

Main characteristics:

  • Primitive brain.
  • 18 teeth, which never stop growing.
  • Weak vision.
  • Better sense of smell than sight.
  • Able to retract its eyes into its sockets.
  • Two toes (two species of sloths) or three toes (four species) on the front feet and always three toes on the hind feet.
  • Long curved claws on the front and hind toes.
  • Arms one and one-half times as long as its legs.
  • Two-toed sloths have no tail.
  • Three-toed sloths have a short tail.
  • Six to nine cervical vertebrae.
  • Body temperature ranges from 24 to 33°C.
  • Two-toed sloths are nocturnal.
  • Three-toed sloths are diurnal and nocturnal.
  • Six known species.

Sloths worldwide

They live in the Central and South American tropical rainforest, from southern Honduras to northern Argentina.

There are six species of sloths, belonging to two families.

Image: Hoffmann's two-toed sloth
Hoffmann's two-toed sloth

Family : Megalonychidae

  • Two species of two-toed sloths

Image: brown-throated three-toed sloth
brown-throated three-toed sloth

Family : Bradypodidae

  • Four species of three-toed sloths.

For more information:
Mammals in the Trees | Descriptive records

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