Scandentia– Treeshrews

Live in small family groups – and can die of shame, stress, and fear

The intricate world of tree shrews, small mammals native to the dense, verdant tropical forests of Southeast Asia, unfurls a compelling narrative of evolution and behavior. These diminutive creatures, exhibiting a striking resemblance to squirrels, are the protagonists of the order Scandentia. For years, their lineage puzzled scientists as they appeared to straddle a line between the Insectivora, a group that includes moles and hedgehogs, and the primates, our own biological order. Early scientific consensus had suggested that tree shrews might represent a formative branch of the primate family tree, potentially giving us a glimpse into our own evolutionary past.

Tree shrews are not mere background characters in the theatre of the forest; they are active, assertive participants. They exhibit a fascinating social structure where monogamous pairs maintain and vigorously defend their territories. The males, particularly, are known for their fervent territorial disputes, which, though brief — often lasting a mere few minutes — are intense and consequential. The aftermath of these confrontations is as psychological as it is physical. The defeated tree shrew, overwhelmed by a cocktail of shame and fear, often retreats into seclusion. These mammals are so acutely affected by the territorial triumph of their adversary that they may not survive the psychological stress, passing away hidden and alone, not directly due to the wounds inflicted in the skirmish, but because of the unrelenting stress and the oppressive dominance of the victor.

Beyond their social interactions, tree shrews are a marvel of adaptation and survival. Their sharp, pointed teeth are perfect for piercing and tearing their varied fare, and their agile bodies are adept at navigating the complex arboreal highways of their rainforest homes. The high metabolic rate of tree shrews drives them to forage frequently, and their keen eyesight serves them well both in finding food and in avoiding predators.

The sensory capabilities of tree shrews are further fine-tuned for their arboreal lifestyle. They possess a keen sense of hearing and a highly developed sense of touch, which includes vibrissae (whiskers) that are sensitive to even the slightest changes in their environment, alerting them to potential danger. Their limbs, while not prehensile, are strong and flexible, facilitating their acrobatic movements through the trees.