As you probably are aware, trees can provide food, nice views, and shelter. If you’re wondering how the shelter comes into play, you may want to know about the kinds of critters living your trees.
Some of the most common animals and insects you will find living in trees are squirrels, geckos, raccoons, skunks, birds, ants, beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, and butterflies. These animals and insects typically use trees as a source of shelter to protect themselves from the elements.
Before we dive into learning about the animals and insects living in trees, it is important to first know why these creatures might opt to live in a tree in the first place. So, let’s get into it!
Why Do Animals And Insects Live In Trees?
Animals and insects often live in trees because they are multi-use beings, providing not only a home but also food, interaction with others of their species, opportunities for reproduction, and water. However, to be clear, each species will have its reasons for choosing a certain species of tree in any location.
While it all comes down to access to the basics, animals and insects alike are complex organisms with reasoning to back their choices. Even if those reasons are more biological than they are intentional.
Trees are great homes for a wide variety of life; between those who fly, climb, or stay closer to the ground, there is always something a tree can offer.
Between safety, food security, and shelter from inopportune weather, animals, and insects, look for a reliable area to settle down and use what they have available to them.
Here are some of the common reasons animals and insects may opt to live in, or at least around, trees:
Protection From The Elements And Weather
When temperatures rise, or when rain becomes heavy, trees are a solid constant able to help animals stay safe from the elements.
Whether the leaves of branches help slow the impact of rainfall, or crevasses in the trunk allow little critters to escape the cold of winter, there are many ways trees can protect animals and insects alike.
Another benefit of the shelter of a tree is it allows critters to stay put while remaining near their food source, which brings us to our next reason.
Proximity To A Food Source
Animals and insects living in trees are constantly staying near their food sources. Whether it is squirrels eating acorns from their oak tree home, or birds flying down to the ground to find some worms, trees provide access to the food sources of their residents.
The University of Vermont Extension uses the example of butterflies who feed on nectar as adults. They source the nectar from flowers on trees the butterfly is calling home.
Now, not all animals or insects live in one tree for their whole lives. In fact, most do not. However, these plants can help to sustain and further other living beings’ lifespan.
Speaking of a prolonged lifespan, predators cause quite a threat to the longevity of their prey. Trees can help with this as well.
Hideout From Predators
Living tree branches and hollow trunks of dead trees both help their tenants in one very important area- protection from predators.
The height of a tree’s canopy can often help small animals like squirrels and birds, and insects such as butterflies, to stay above their predators’ line of sight. Some predators may not be adept at climbing trees, which would make this an even more secure home base for all kinds of living critters.
Fallen tree trunks, natural crevasses, and other tree-based homes closer to the ground still offer great predator protection. Animals like foxes, wolves, and coyotes are large enough they may not be able to stick their heads into some areas where smaller creatures like raccoons may live, let alone enter the space and attack their prey.
You Can Find These 9 Animals And Insects Living in Trees
Alright, let’s get to the good stuff now, shall we?
Here are a few, and just a few, of the animals and insects that call trees home. Of course, there are many more species you could include here. These are, however, 9 of the most common species recognized for living in trees.
To begin our list, we have squirrels- a rodent in the same family as marmots, chipmunks, prairie dogs, and more.
Squirrels are known best for munching on acorns while they are not terrorizing guests at college campuses throughout the United States. They love to build nests in the branches, in the space where single branches split into two or more, smaller branches.
Since these animals live among the branches, you can expect them to stay up there when a storm occurs.
Tufts University helps provide some reassurance that animals are safe in trees during a storm, as it notes that birds are much safer when utilizing their trees’ often thick connection of branches, twigs, and leaves.
Hiding within the foliage of a tree is quite safe for the animals that live there!
Talking about animals who live among the branches of a tree, geckos are fond of calling this type of environment home.
Geckos eat some insects, spiders, and other small rodents, but are not the common predator you might think of. Certainly not in the same way owls or foxes aggressively advance on their prey.
Among the branches, geckos may find another food source in small fruit. The size only matters because geckos choose meals they can fit into their mouths easily. Some larger fruit with certain exteriors is not going to be a simple meal for them.
Since this species also lives in the branches, they can stay safer from their predators, which include snakes and spiders.
However, geckos living in the trees may have more to do with their particular species rather than the family of lizards they belong to. We have a feeling some lizards may not be so keen on living right next door to the birds, who may try to eat them instead.
Raccoons are excellent climbers, which leads to them finding housing in some pretty interesting locations.
When it comes down to it, natural cavities in living trees or the open space under fallen trees are commonly the accommodation of choice for these critters.
Between the safety from predators and the elements alike, raccoons and trees are like peanut butter and jelly, though the relationship here might just be a little more complex.
Raccoons are not picky eaters, clearly seen in how they dig through garbage, so the tree environment provides better resources than what they may seek on their own.
These resourceful critters may have a reputation for getting in the way of people, but in nature and when left to their instincts, trees are pretty great real estate.
Surprisingly, there is even a place for these smelly little critters among the trees.
Much like raccoons, skunks favor the natural cavities that a tree might provide them. Any hollow tree trunks, space under fallen trees, or other natural nooks and crannies are very attractive places for skunks to settle into.
Skunks like to eat nuts, seeds, eggs, small insects, and birds, along with some other foods. While birds can stay safe up in branches above, skunks can find plenty of food in the tree they choose to live in. Whether they choose to munch on berries or worms, they will surely find something to snack on.
This one might be pretty darn obvious. Of course, birds live in trees!
The branches provide a great place for parents to nest and raise their young. The adult birds can leave for small periods to gather food for their young, while not being required to stray too far from the baby birds up above.
Since these creatures fly, the obvious choice for them is to live among the branches, giving birds a place to land easily while remaining suspended in the air they soar through all day.
Staying away from predators remains a concern, and the tall branches of trees help to keep these flying friends out of reach of the animals that may hurt or kill them.
You can make your tree more bird friendly by adding something like the Squirrel Buster Standard Squirrel-proof Bird Feeder. If you want the beautiful birds to stay around without being bullied by squirrels, this is perfect for you!
Out of all the insects out there, surely you have noticed ants crawling on the trunk of a tree. Perhaps you saw them as a child playing among the branches as you climbed toward the top of a tree.
Maybe you see them now as you climb trees, reconnecting with your inner child. We don’t know!
Ants are a common species, therefore it is not surprising these critters live in trees along with anthills.
You could think of their setup as a ‘summer home’ sort of deal. Of course, ants love their hills, the structure of the community, and the challenge of producing food. However, that food has to be sourced from somewhere, and in nature, food may be sourced from trees.
Ants rarely damage a tree. Instead, they make use of cavities and any rotten wood that may provide a suitable home. The only ant that may damage a tree are carpenter ants, but they can only dig tunnels in soft wood, meaning the tree may have already had wood rot.
They seek the sweet dew left behind by other insects but also can be protected from other predators by holing up above the ground.
Caterpillars And Butterflies
You know how butterflies have to go through a period of metamorphosis to become that final, beautiful form? Well, the caterpillars who turn into these flying works of art must build a chrysalis somewhere.
What place is better than a tree, which they can hang their chrysalis from while going through the most significant change of their life?
You see with these creatures how the distance from other bugs and animals can be helpful while a huge transformation occurs.
This follows the same vein of not only safety but comfort and ease. Nature might center on things essential to life, but individual animals and insects can also certainly follow their desires for a more comfortable existence.
There are many types of caterpillars and not all are as likable as others, but if you are seeing your leaves are being eaten, or a tree seems to be taken advantage of, you can work with a trained professional in your area.
One type of nasty caterpillars are tent caterpillars, or silkworms. To learn more about what harm they can bring, and how to get rid of them, check out 7 Ways To Get Rid of Silkworms (Tent Caterpillars) For Good.
Beetles are just another bug that lives in a tree, but why?
For these insects, it is all about the bark. Called bark beetles, quite creatively we might add, these insects are found in trees already declining or dead. Fallen trees or pieces of firewood may serve as a temporary home for these critters as well.
Iowa State University Extension tells us there are hundreds of species of bark beetles.
If you are seeing these beetles in a mostly healthy tree, we recommend trimming or pruning any infested limbs.
Otherwise, these beetles do not cause huge issues, since they seek trees that are already a viable host (meaning dead or declining). They may cause some annoyance, but are not a threat to humans.
Your house structure and furniture (processed wood) will also remain safe from bark beetles who opt to take advantage of resources already past their better phase of life.
In a way, bark beetles are wonderful at repurposing space, and trees other species can no longer live in.
Have you ever heard the noise of cicadas in the summer? Just going on and on, for weeks at a time, if not longer.
Not every place has cicadas, and they certainly do not always come with quite the same level of intensity every year.
After living in the ground, which is a whole different story, cicadas will find a tree to attach to and lay eggs on.
This is a prime example of trees not only being used as a home but also as a site for reproduction and continuing the species.
Trees provide everything necessary for cicadas to continue out of the elements, away from predators, and near food sources, so that young can survive and thrive upon hatching.
Eventually, it’s back to the ground, anyway.
How Can Insects Or Animals Benefit Your Tree?
Animals and insects can most definitely cause harm to plants, and sometimes they end up being quite the pests. However, this is not always the case.
Quite often, funny enough, these creatures and plants get along very well in a symbiotic relationship.
Removing Harmful Insects
One benefit of the regular critters who call trees home is they often work to remove insects causing a negative disruption to the balance of the tree’s ecosystem. Treecosystem, if you will.
They often want to protect their home, which means protecting the tree. Invasive pests and harmful critters will not stand a chance when faced with the typical tenants of a tree.
This may mean animals eat insects who could harm the tree, or they may simply scare other creatures off. Regardless of the situation, the tree gets some helpful protection and animals get to stake their claim.
Having animals can be especially helpful when you need a little extra natural fertilizer.
Picking up what we are putting down?
If not, the animals will *cough, cough* use the restroom near the base of the tree. This will continue to break down and add some extra nutrients to your soil.
So, let animals and insects make a home on a tree, and the tree will reap so many of the benefits. It’s all just one big natural cycle of repurposing and giving a little to get a little.
Repurposing Trees That Are Otherwise Not Viable
Like we talked about with bark beetles, there is an entire sector of tree-wildlife relationships centering on fauna making use of rapidly declining or already dead flora.
For example, you may see an injured or dead tree from being in the path of a forest fire. You may also just assume this tree is pretty much out of commission, right?
Trees that have fallen or been partially destroyed can offer great places for nests, dens, and other homes for animals and insects alike. They are usually searching for a space both protected from the elements and capable of housing multiple members of a group
That’s It For Now!
Well, that’s all we have for now.
Stay tuned though, because there are always more trees, and insects and animals, to talk about. Nature is an especially incredible thing and we hope that you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about it in this piece.
If you forget some critters we named in this article, never fear!
Here’s a final list of animals & insects who especially use trees as their home.
- Caterpillars and Butterflies
Just remember, these creatures make their home outdoors, using the materials and locations they have at their disposal. Please be mindful of this when looking to call an exterminator or pest control when a creature is not truly causing you any harm or extra stress.
If you have concerns about the safety or health of your tree, do some research and see what steps you can take to restore your peace of mind and maintain your tree’s health.
Thank you for reading!
I hope this article helps you along your ever-evolving tree journey.
Casipe, M. How These Animals Live in Trees Is Changing How People Live in Houses.
Ryan, K. C. (1994). Interactions Between Fire-injured Trees and Insects. In Plants and their environments: proceedings of the first biennial scientific conference on the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem (Vol. 93, p. 259). US National Park Service, Natural Resources Publication Office.
Floren, A., Biun, A., & Linsenmair, E. K. (2002). Arboreal ants as key predators in tropical lowland rainforest trees. Oecologia, 131(1), 137-144.