Anathana elliotiMadras tree shrew

Geographic Range

Indian or Madras tree shrews are found on the Indian subcontinent south of the Ganges River (Roonwal and Mohnot 1977). Three subspecies are recognized according to their specific geographic range. Anathana ellioti ellioti inhabits the Eastern Ghats and the Shevaroy Hills of Southern India (Waterhouse 1850 in Roonwal and Mohnot 1977). Anathana ellioti pallida is found in Central India primarily in Madhya Pradesh and Raipur northwest of the Ganges River (Lyon 1913 in Roonwal and Mohnot 1977), and Anathana ellioti wroughtoni lives in Western India in the Satpura Range and the Dangs near Bombay (Lyon 1913 in Roonwal and Mohnot 1977).


Indian tree shrews have been sighted in moist to semi-moist deciduous forests in an overall dry deciduous area (Shrivastava 1994). They have also been observed on stone covered slopes and ravines, some near cultivated fields and pastures (Chorazyna and Kurup 1975; Shrivastava 1994).

Physical Description

Anathana ellioti resembles Tupaia in appearance but has larger ears with thicker hair than does Tupaia. Indian tree shrews' upper parts are speckled with brown, yellow, and black often with a reddish tinge (Nowak 1997). The ventral portion is nearly white as is an oblique shoulder stripe (Roonwal and Mohnot 1977). Body and head length range from 16.0cm to 18.5cm and tail length ranges from 16.5cm to 19.5cm. The dilambdodont dentition of A. ellioti reflects its omnivorous feeding habits. The dental formula is 2/3 1/1 3/3 3/3 = 9/10 (Verma 1965).

  • Average mass
    160 g
    5.64 oz


Little is known of the reproductive behavior of A. ellioti. According to the anatomy of its reproductive system, five young may be produced at a time (Verma 1965). In contrast to Tupaia in which the male testes are scrotal, the testes are abdominal in A. ellioti (Verma 1965; Hayssen 1993).

  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5


Although called a "tree shrew" and a skillful climber of rocks, A. ellioti usually does not climb trees. Indian tree shrews have been observed climbing trees only when frightened, when playing, or when self-cleaning. Since they are largely solitary animals, A. ellioti do not mutual groom. Instead, they use tree trunks to groom in addition to using their paws to comb and smooth their fur. An Indian tree shrew will climb about 2m on a tree trunk, stretch to full length, and slide down head first. This action will be repeated at different tilts to groom different parts of the body (Chorazyna and Kurup 1975).

Anathana ellioti builds night shelters between soft ground and stones that vary in complexity from depressions to corridors with multiple entries. Each shelter usually houses one Indian tree shrew (Chorazyna and Kurup 1975).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Indian tree shrews are omnivorous. They eat insects such as caterpillars, flying ants, and butterflies as well as earthworms and fruit (such as wild berries). They have also been observed eating the fruit of Lantana camara, a common thorny shrub. Anathana ellioti only occasionally uses its hands when eating insects and fruit. Indian tree shrews spend much of their morning and evening hours foraging for food. Foraging is always solitary (Chorazyna and Kurup 1975).

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Not primarily arboreal mammals, Indian tree shrews have been known to climb trees rapidly when alarmed or frightened (Chorazyna and Kurup 1975; Shrivastava 1995). This is likely an adaptation to escape predation.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Prior to being classified in their own order, Scandentia, tree shrews were placed either in the Order Insectivora or in the Order Primates. Considered primitive primates, they were popular experimental subjects in neurobiology and neuroanatomy. Tree shrews were "considered ideal subjects to gain insight into the organization of the early primate visual system" (German Primate Center). Anathana ellioti, rare in the wild and in captivity, is of no economic importance to humans (Chorazyna and Kurup 1975).

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

None known

Conservation Status


Suhani Bora (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Bret Weinstein (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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.

World Map


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


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


"Neuroscientific research in tree shrews at the German Primate Center" (On-line). Accessed October 6, 2001 at

Chorazyna, H., G. Kurup. 1975. Observations on the Ecology and Behaviour of *Anathana ellioti* in the Wild. Contemporary Primatology: 5th International Congress of Primatology: 342-344.

Hayssen, V., A. Van Tienhoven, A. Van Tienhoven. 1993. Adsell's Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction. Ithaca and London: Comstock Publishing Associates.

Lyon, M. 1913. Tree-shrews: an account of the mammalian family Tupaiidae.. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 45: 1-188.

Nowak, R. 1997. "Walker's Mammals of the World" (On-line). Accessed October 6, 2001 at

Roonwal, M., S. Mohnot. 1977. Primates of South Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Shrivastava, R. 1995. Sighting of Indian Tree Shrew *Anathana ellioti* at Bori Wildlife Sanctuary, Hoshangabad District, Madhya Pradesh. Bombay Natural History Society, 92: 410-411.

Verma, K. 1965. Notes on the Biology and Anatomy of the Indian Tree-Shrew, *Anathana wroughtoni*. Mammalia, 29: 289-330.

Waterhouse, G. 1850. Description of a new species of Tupaia discovered in continental India by Walter Elliot Esq.. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1849): 106-108.