~ ‘Flying’ without wings ~

Hi!

Watching animals with wings taking flight is a common sight in our everyday lives, however, ever seen one without wings taking flight too? Today, I am going to introduce to you guys this particularly fascinating animal which roams the region of South-East Asia, the Colugos.

Colugos, scientifically named as Cynocephalus variegatus, are also called ‘flying lemur’. Flying lemurs are classified in the order Dermoptera, from the Greek words derma, meaning “skin”, and the ptera, meaning “wing”, thus “skin-wing”.(Wildlife Singapore) Colugos are fairly large for a tree-dwelling mammal: at about 35 to 40 centimetres (14 to 16 in) in length and 1 to 2 kilograms (2.2 to 4.4 lb) in weight, they are comparable to a medium-sized possumsquirrel. They have moderately long, slender limbs of equal length front and rear, a medium-length tail, and a relatively light build. The head is small, with large, front-focused eyes for excellent binocular vision, and small, rounded ears. When born, the Colugo weighs only about 35g (1.2oz) and do not reach adult size for 2–3 years. (The Encyclopedia of Mammals, 1984) Colugos are largely nocturnal and adopt an herbivores diet, feeding on young leaves from many tree species. (Obscure mammals glide into the evolutionary limelight, 2008) If you are already imaging how it looks like…

Colugos taking flight!

Colugos taking flight!

Colugo at a stationary position

Colugo at a stationary position

So whats up with ‘flying’ without wings?! One of the most unique mammals in that sense, the colugos are said to have the most extensive adaptation to flight, using its gliding membrane (patagium) to glide between trees. As we can see from the picture by Norman Lim, NUS, the patagium stretches from its shoulder blade to their fore-paws, from their fore-paws to their to their toes and from their toes to their tail.

Interesting, despite being named as ‘flying lemur’, what the Colugos actually does is to glide using its patagium for support and resembles nothing so much as a furry kite. This is supported by a Journal by Robert D Martin, ‘obscure mammals glide into the evolutionary limelight’, that ‘they are not lemurs and cannot fly’. The video below will illustrate how the Colugos take flight, and be seen by some as ‘flying’.

Today, the widespread deforestation threatens Colugos’s survival. Hunters who hunt them for their fur and meat also contribute to the gradual reduction of their population. Colugos are also the main diet of the endangered Philippine Eagle, with studies showing that it actually account for 90% of the eagle’s diet. However, it is puzzling how the diurnal eagles managed to prey on the nocturnal Colugos so frequently, as Colugos are thought to spend a large part of the day camouflaging themselves in tree hollows or hanging inconspicuously underneath a tree branch.

Well, hope you enjoyed seeing this refreshing gravity defying stunt 🙂

References

Wildlife Singapore. http://www.wildsingapore.per.sg/discovery/factsheet/colugo.htm

MacKinnon, Kathy (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 446–447. ISBN 0-87196-871-1.

‘Colugos: obscure mammals that glide into the evolutionary limelight’ by Robert D Martin. http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/jbiol74.pdf (1st May 2008)

Colugos or Flying Lemur. http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/mammals/colugo.htm (2007)

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