Tupaia belangerinorthern tree shrew

Geographic Range

Northern tree shrews are found in South East Asia (IUCN Red List, 2012). The IUCN (2012) specifies that they are native to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. (IUCN, 2012)


Northern tree shrews inhabit a variety of forest habitats. They live in tropical and subtropical areas, which are usually moist environments (IUCN, 2012). They have also been recorded in shrub lands and artificial plantations and rural gardens. IUCN (2012) reports 3000 meters as the highest known elevation for tree shrew, recorded in China. Tree shrews inhabit areas about 25 degrees Celsius, with at least 45 to 50% humidity (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009; IUCN, 2012)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3,000 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Northern tree shrews have greyish, olive fur with an elongated snout (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012). The dental formula of the Tupaiidae is incisors 2/3, canines 1/1, pre-molars 3/3, and molars 3/3 (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). Northern tree shrews are moderately sexually dimorphic (Collins and Tsang, 1987; Schehka et al., 2007). Male tree shrews have a larger body size and ring of white hair around the eye compared to females. Males also have a broader skull than the females (Collins and Tsang, 1987). (Collins and Tsang, 1987; Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009; Schehka, et al., 2007; Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012)

Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle (2009) describe the difficulty in determining the sex of young tree shrews. As pups the external genitalia of both males and females look alike. Males have a slender and elongate penis, which is posterior to scrotal testes, which can be retracted into the abdominal cavity if the individual is stressed. In females the clitoris is greatly elongated and grooved on its ventral surface. In neonatal shrews the urethra opens together with the vagina as a single opening at the base of the clitoris; this is what looks like the males penis in young female tree shrews. However the clitoris does not have a tubular sheath like the penis. (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

Northern tree shrews have a mass of approximately 50 to 270 grams, Head to Body Length of 12 to 21 cm and a tail length ranging from 14 to 20 cm, usually close to the length of their body (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). Shrew body temperature has been described, ranging from about 35 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius; this 5 degree difference is much larger than most endothermic animals (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range mass
    50 to 270 g
    1.76 to 9.52 oz
  • Range length
    26 to 41 cm
    10.24 to 16.14 in


Northern tree shrews have a monogamous mating system (Collins and Tsang, 1987). Introductions between a mating pair are possibly the hardest part of breeding for northern tree shrews. Copulation can occur within a few hours if the female accepts the male (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). However, they usually use more aggressive behaviors. Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle (2009) suggest two explanations: first, that the individuals merely don't like each other, and second that to mate one animal has to enter the others territory. Northern tree shrews, male or female, will defend their territory against intruders. If the couple can overcome this they will form a stable breeding pair and continue to breed together. Females have an 8 to 12 day estrous cycle. Ovulation is thought to be induced by copulation (Martin, 1990) (Collins and Tsang, 1987; Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009; Martin, 1990)

Under natural and artificial conditions Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle (2009) observed that breeding can occur at any time of the year; no peak periods were found. Males and females become sexually reproductive around the same time. Males will be active between four and five months and females can give birth to their first litter at approximately 4 months old. Northern tree shrews have a litter size of 1 to 5 young. The gestation period occurs for approximately 41 to 45 days and females give birth to hairless, altricial young. Pups ears open at around 10 days and their eyes open at approximately 20 days after birth. Female young tend to be heavier than males, but on average young will have a birth mass of 6 to 10 grams (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). Young will drink their mothers milk until they are around 35 days old when they wean off the liquid diet. Northern tree shrews reach puberty at about 2 months old and can be separated from their mother at about 50 to 60 days (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). Older mothers may have problems with infertility, still birth, cannibalism or abortion. These problems can also occur in females that are stressed, which is likely in tree shrews as they are highly susceptible to stressors (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Breeding interval
    Northern tree shrews breed continuously throughout the year.
  • Breeding season
    Northern tree shrews breed continuously and do not have a seasonal breeding peak.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Range gestation period
    41 to 45 days
  • Average weaning age
    35 days
  • Range time to independence
    50 to 60 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 5 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 months

Immediately after birth the mother will nurse her pups and thereafter only return to feed her young once every 48 hours (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). They receive approximately 5 to 10 milliliters of milk, with a relatively high fat content of about 25%. Pups consume this amount of milk in approximately 2 to 10 minutes. As a result pups have less than 2 hours contact with their mother during the 30 to 35 day period. Martin (1990) described that as the lowest mother to infant contact and smallest parental investment for viviparous mammals described thus far. Males are not involved in parental care after copulation (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle (2009). (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


Captive northern tree shrews live 9 to 12 years (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). The lifespan of northern tree shrews in the wild is currently unknown. (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12 (high) hours
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    9 to 12 years


Typically northern tree shrews live in monogamous pairs (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012). One adult male and female share overlapping territories. Males and females will both defend their territories against conspecifics year round. Territorial fights are documented between adults of the same sex (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). Tree shrews use scent marking, excreted from a gland on their chest, to mark their territories (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). The young tree shrews leave the nest around the onset of puberty and they become completely self sufficient (Collins and Tsang, 1987). (Collins and Tsang, 1987; Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009; Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012)

Home Range

Northern tree shrews have relatively stable home ranges of about 2 acres or 0.81 hectares (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012). (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012)

Communication and Perception

Northern tree shrews make 8 distinct sounds (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). Of these 4 can be associated with functional categories that are described by Binz and Zimmermann (1989): alarm, attention, contact, and defense. Tree shrew noises can range from 0.4 to 20 kHz. The structure of the sounds depend on the status and motivation of the individuals; their pitch increases with fear and decreases in pitch (or increases in frequency) with increased aggression (Kirchhof et al., 2001). Kirchhof et al. (2001) also note that tree shrews do not use ultrasonic localisations. Tree shrews use scent marking to indicate boundaries of their territories (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). (Binz and Zimmermann, 1989; Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009; Kirchhof, et al., 2001)

Food Habits

Northern tree shrews are predominantly insectivorous, but eat fruits to obtain extra nutrients and calories to their high protein diet (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

Tree shrews do not absorb much water from their food and they are unable to go more than 1 day without free water (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009) (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


It has been noted that tree shrews will react to predation risk (Schehka et al., 2007; Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009). They will display defensively to a threat, specifically baring teeth and making high pitched, loud vocalizations (Schehka, 2007). Specific predators of northern tree shrews are not specificed. However, due to their size and behavior possible predators could include, large birds of prey, snakes, and potentially some carnivorous mammals. (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009; Schehka, et al., 2007)

Ecosystem Roles

While the main food source of northern tree shrews is insects, they also eat fruit to supplement their diet. It could be inferred that they play a role in the seed dispersal of fruit bearing trees. (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive economic effects of northern tree shrews.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Northern tree shrews have well defined, sharp teeth. Should they feel threatened these could be used as a defense mechanism. It is highly unlikely that these animals would attack a human but a small possibility. Otherwise there are no known negative economic effects of northern tree shrews. (Fuchs and Corbach-Sohle, 2009)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

IUCN (2012) describe northern tree shrews as the Least Concern status. They have a population that is stable, and they are common throughout their range. IUCN (2012) lists them as least concern because of their wide range, abundance, ability to tolerate disturbance, and they are present in many protected areas. (IUCN, 2012)


Teagan Lowther (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Laura Prugh (editor), University of Washington, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects.



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 coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.


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.


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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


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


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


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.

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

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them


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


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.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Binz, H., E. Zimmermann. 1989. The vocal repertoire of adult tree shrews (Tupaia belangeri). Behavior, 109: 142-162.

Collins, P., W. Tsang. 1987. Growth and Reproductive Development in the Male Tree Shrew (Tupaia belangeri) from Birth to Sexual Maturity. Biology of Reproduction, 37: 261-267.

Fuchs, E., S. Corbach-Sohle. 2009. "Tree Shrews" (On-line pdf). UFAW Handbook Tree Shrews. Accessed November 18, 2012 at http://www.unifr.ch/inph/vclab/assets/files/PDFs/pdf_1/UFAW%20Handbook%20Tree%20shrews.pdf.

IUCN, 2012. "Tupaia belangeri (Northern Treeshrew, Northern Tree Shrew)" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed November 18, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41492/0.

Kirchhof, J., K. Hammerschmidt, E. Fuchs. 2001. Aggression and Dominance in Tree Shrews (Tupaia belangeri). Agonistic pattern is reflected in vocal patterns.. Pp. 409-414 in M Martinez, ed. Prevention and Control of Aggression and the Impact on its Vicitms. New York: Kluwer Academi/Plenum Publishers.

Martin, R. 1990. Primate Origins and Evolution. London: Chapman & Hall.

Schehka, S., K. Esser, E. Zimmermann. 2007. Acoustical Expression of Arousal in Conflict Situations in Tree Shrews (Tupaia belangeri). J Comp Physiol A, 193: 845-852.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2012. "Small Mammals" (On-line). Small Mammals: Northern Tree Shrew - National Zoo|FONZ. Accessed November 18, 2012 at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/SmallMammals/fact-northerntreeshrew.cfm).

Tsang, W., P. Collins. 1985. Techniques for hand rearing tree-shrews (Tupaia belangeri) from birth. Zoo Biology, 4: 23-31.