Shabbat 28a discusses the תחש skin that was used as a covering for the Mishkan. One opinion there (R' Nechemya) says:

רבי נחמיה אומר מכסה אחד היה ודומה כמין תלא אילן והא תלא אילן טמא הוא ה"ק כמין תלא אילן הוא שיש בו גוונין הרבה ולא תלא אילן דאילו התם טמא והכא טהור

R' Nechemya says: It was a single cover, and looked like a תלא אילן. [The Gemara asks:] But a תלא אילן is tamei. He said it's like a תלא אילן, in that it has many colors, and not a תלא אילן, because that is tamei and this (the תחש) is tahor. (My rough translation)

There has been considerable discussion on what the תחש is (see Hebrew Wikipedia for examples), but none that i could find on the תלא אילן. Google searches for תלא אילן keep coming up with the discussion about the תחש here.

I did find one online dictionary that suggested it's a squirrel, but squirrels don't seem all that colorful.

I would suggest a giraffe (one of the suggestions for what a תחש is), but giraffes are tahor.

Has there been any research into what a תלא אילן is?

Please only post answers sourced in scholarly research, not personal conjecture. Feel free to give your ideas in comments though.

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    Tale Ilan - one who hangs in trees. Perhaps a leopard or another spotted cat that dwells in trees? That would explain that the name is a description of a known animal (and not a proper name itself), that is identifiable predominantly by it's behavior and known to be tamei. The leopard fits the bill better than anything I can think of - everyone pictures it sitting/standing on a tree branch and it is well known for its spots. Sloths also hang but aren't that colorful. – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 20 '15 at 15:28
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    The Genet is a spotted member of the civet family that dwells in trees and is indigenous to the Middle East. Related to mongeese, and seems to fit the bill as a tamei animal. – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 20 '15 at 15:38
  • @IsaacKotlicky The possibility of being a Genet is also mentioned in the link Gershon posted. – Scimonster Feb 21 '15 at 17:39

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