- Issue: Fall 2018
Flying lemurs have a deceptive name. Also called colugos, these small, furry tree-dwellers can’t technically fly, and they’re not technically lemurs. But in the Southeast Asian forests they inhabit, they can glide incredible distances between trees. And genetically they happen to be the closest living relatives of primates.
Anatomy of a flying lemur
- PATAGIUM This fur-covered membrane extends from the animal’s face to the tips of its claws and tail, allowing flying lemurs to glide as far as 200 feet between trees. When clinging to trees, female flying lemurs shelter their babies in the pouches formed by the loose folds of their membranes.
- WEBBED FEET The flying lemur’s webbed feet help it glide, and its strong claws aid in gripping tree trunks. The soles of the feet can also form suction cup shapes to increase the animal’s grip.
- EYES The animal’s large eyes have strong night vision and depth perception—both of which help it move between trees at night.
- TOOTHCOMB A set of long, tiny teeth—which looks like a miniature comb—is believed to help it feed and clean parasites from its fur.
- SKELETON Its bones aren’t as lightweight as a bat’s, but they’re lighter and thinner than a squirrel’s—an advantage when it’s gliding.
Flying lemurs depend on trees for their food and safety, so deforestation in the regions they inhabit (particularly on the Indonesian island of Sumatra) threatens their habitat. Even when loggers selectively remove one type of tree from a forest, the increased space between trees can make it difficult for these creatures to glide from tree to tree. Some local communities also occasionally hunt flying lemurs for their fur and meat.
Meet the flying lemurs
PHILIPPINE FLYING LEMUR (Left)
RANGE Southern Philippines
WEIGHT 2.2-3.8 lb
FUR COLOR Mottled but less dramatically spotted than that of the Sunda flying lemur. Males tend to have brown fur and females tend to have gray fur.
SUNDA FLYING LEMUR (Right)
RANGE Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia
WEIGHT 2-4.5 lb
FUR COLOR Ranges from reddish-brown to gray and tends to have patches of color that look like tree lichen.