Can Wolverines Climb Trees? [Answered & Explained]

Photo: Jindrich Pavelka / Shutterstock

Wolverines are strong mammals that live in remote and cold areas in the Northern Hemisphere.

Their name may imply that they are part of the dog family but in fact, they are not. As part of the weasel family, wolverines can twist and turn with ease over a variety of terrain.

Due to the wolverines’ ability to move with agility, they can also climb trees. They use their powerful and flexible claws, webbed feet, and muscular bodies to adeptly climb and move. Wolverines climb trees to seek prey and avoid predators. Additionally, wolverines mark trees to claim their territory and can use tree hollows for their dens. 

Can Wolverines Climb?

Wolverines live solitarily in northern cooler grasslands, forests, tundra, subarctic, and Arctic habitats, roaming over large areas of 15 miles or more a day. They resemble a combination of dog, skunk, and bear, and are the largest of the weasel family at approximately 33 to 44 inches from head to tail, weighing up to 40 pounds.

This nocturnal creature generally lives on the ground, hunting, mating, giving birth, and digging dens or tunnels to sleep in at night or to store food. 

However, wolverines are built with the ability to expertly climb.  

They have sharp semi-retractile claws to grip surfaces, with long bodies and shorter legs to stay close to surfaces. The wolverine will grip the tree with its claws, using their legs to push themselves up. 

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Their body shape allows the wolverine to maneuver easily around obstacles such as tree branches.

When wolverines walk, their paws spread out to twice their size, giving their foothold greater surface area and traction. This allows them to walk across snow-covered ground, moving up to 30 mph. 

The paw capability of wolverines allows them a greater surface area for climbing and groping onto trees as well.

Why Do Wolverines Climb?

Wolverines climb for basic survival instincts. They are searching for food, escaping predators, marking their territory, or using a tree burrow as a den.

To Search For Food

Wolverines prey on small mammals such as rodents and rabbits. They will also eat the carrion of large animals such as caribou, elk, or deer when food sources are scarce. Wolverines will fight off other animals eating carrion as well to get the food themselves.

Wolverines are omnivores, eating both meat and vegetation. They can pounce on the prey, falling from the tree to capture it. Birds’ nests and fruits can be accessed in trees as well.

To Escape Predators

The wolverine’s muscular body, claws, and movement patterns help it to escape predators through swimming or climbing.

Predators of the wolverine include bears, mountain lions, wolves, and humans. However, wolverines avoid climbing in areas where they sense human presence.  

To Mark Territory

Wolverines leave scat, or feces, on elevated surfaces within their territories. They will mark up trees and other vegetation by scratching them with their claws. 

They will also roll over and mark the trails of other animals to cover up other scents.

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To Make A Den

Although it is not commonly seen, there is some limited evidence of wolverine dens in standing spruce trees and large tree hollows. 

Dens have also been found under tree roots at the base of trees.

Wolverines may climb short heights to access the dens and to keep a look out for predators.

How High Do Wolverines Climb?

Wolverines are incredibly agile in moving across difficult terrain. Their climbing abilities allow them to do so. 

It is difficult for researchers to keep up with them for observation. Wolverines with GPS trackers on them show researchers just how agile they can move over the terrain.

Wolverines can climb up and over an avalanche chute and slide belly-down the other side, running quickly. 

While wolverines are not tree-dwelling (arboreal) animals, it is speculated that while they can climb trees, it is generally not at great heights.

Types Of Trees That Wolverines Climb

Wolverines will climb a variety of trees depending upon what is in their terrestrial habitat. 

They can climb evergreen, deciduous, and coniferous trees. Wolverines have been spotted in varieties of fir trees, spruce, hemlock, pine, and more. 

Deforestation And Human Threats

Currently, there is a push to protect the wolverines from ending up on the endangered species list.  

In areas where deforestation is taking place, the wolverine population is affected. Trees are not only used for climbing but as a source of protection for building dens and seeking out other den prey. 

When trees are removed, this leaves the wolverines in search of food and shelter.

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Huntsman will also shoot wolverines to protect livestock or for sport and fur. As a result, the population decreases. 

Currently, there are no laws that disallow the shooting of wolverines, but if they end up on the endangered list, that will change.  

In Conclusion

While wolverines do not live in trees, they are an important part of their habitat and survival. 

Wolverines climb trees to search for food and prey and to escape predators. 

Trees are an essential part of the wolverines’ lives as they are also used for sheltering their kits and marked to dominate territory.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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