ABOVE: Lesser Treeshrew Tupaia minor. The Lesser Treeshrew frequently climbs into the canopy to feed on fruit especially fruiting figs. Of the 9 treeshrews that occur in Borneo 8 species have been recorded feeding on fruit. The most preferred fruits are figs. Photo by Arlene Walshe in Temburong , Brunei.

Plain Treeshrew Jungle Dave DSC00091
Plain Treeshrew  Tupaia longipes. Of the 9 Bornean treeshews, 7 species are largely terrestrial and  are rarely seen more than a meter above the ground. The Plain Treeshrew feeds largely on ants and termites and fallen fruit including fallen figs on the ground.  Photo by Jungle Dave at Wasai Bidanu, Brunei.

According to Wells (2009) Seeds eaten by small mammals in Borneo examination of the feces of freshly trapped Plain Treeshrews showed that they could swallow and defecate  seeds up to 5.8 mm diameter. The largest fig seed of any Bornean fig F. deltoidea is only 5.6 mm in diameter  so potentially Plain Treeshrews could swallow and defecate  the seeds of any Bornean fig.  However  studies by Emmons (1991) Frugivory in treeshrews found that when eating fibrous fruit such as figs the bulky fiber and seeds were pressed against the roof of the mouth with the tongue to create a  wad of fiber which was  then discarded rather than swallowed  by the treeshrew. A similar technique of discarding the fiber and seeds and only swallowing the pulp is used by most fruit bats when eating figs. In these cases the fig seeds are dispersed only locally.

Lesser Treeshrew  Mike Gordon - Copy.jpg
Lesser Treeshrew Tupaia minor frequently fed  in the canopy of fruiting strangling figs at Lambir.  Photo at Deramakot by Mike Gordon.

However, a study by Mike Shanahan and Stephen Compton of Ficus montana figs  fed to captive Lesser Treeshrews,  Shanahan & Compton (2000) Fig eating by Tupaia minor in the UK’ found that the treeshrews ate the ripe figs, swallowing and defecating the seeds which had a maximum diameter of 1.5 mm. There was no evidence that the treeshrews  rejected the fiber and seeds so Lesser Treeshrews  do appear to be effective dispersers of fig seeds.

Slender Treshrew Mike Gordon.jpg

Slender Treeshrew Tupaia gracilis   looks similar to the more aboreal  Tupaia minor  and the two species are frequently mistaken. However Slender Treeshrew feeds mainly  within 1.5 m of the ground on butterfly and moth larvae (caterpillars) and fallen fruit. Photo by Mike Gordon at Deramakot.

Emmons (2000) Fig eating by treeshrews.jpg


“As soon as we began to follow treeshrews by radio tracking at Poring, we discovered that they often spent much of their day at fruit trees. I was able to watch Lesser treeshrews feeding on fruit, sometimes for hours.

At Poring, figs so completely dominated the list of fruits eaten by treeshrews (64%) that treeshrews might have been thought to be fig specialists. However, the next year at Danum figs were only 27%  percent of species known to be eaten, and it was clear that fruiting fig trees were simply much more numerous on the study area at Poring than at Danum Valley, where other fruits were eaten more often. In both areas suitable fig trees. commanded intense interest from all species of treeshrews, in terms of both hours spent at them and the number of daily visits, so that figs can be said to be among the most preferred fruit.”

CONCLUSION:  The majority of Borneo’s treeshrews  are insectivores but all include a significant proportion of fruit in their diet. The most preferred fruit are figs. All types of  ripe figs are eaten. The aboreal Lesser Treeshrew is the most frugivorous and climbs into fruiting fig trees to collect figs before they fall. Fig seeds are effectively dispersed by  Lesser Treeshrews via swallowing and defecation. Terrestrial treeshrews also eat fallen figs but have been recorded  ejecting a fiber wad  without swallowing the seeds so are probably less effective dispersers. The impact of treeshrews on earth figs is unknown but because earth figs have  such tiny seeds it is likely that they are dispersed by swallowing and defecation. See: Figs dispersed by rats in Borneo.