Sunda Flying Lemur
Malayan flying lemur, Sunda colugo, Malayan colugo
The Sunda (or Malayan) flying lemur or “colugo” does not belong to the prosimian group like true lemurs, but is in a zoological order of its own, Dermoptera or "skinwings", which has only one genus and two species: the Philippine and Sunda flying lemurs. The latter is mottled grayish or brownish on its upper parts and is paler below. Flying lemurs do not actually fly, but glide from one tree to the next, by means of the patagium, a membrane that stretches from their forelimbs to their tail. There is little information about their life span but the oldest known individual in captivity lived to 17.5 years old.
Sunda flying lemurs inhabit Southeast Asia and Indochina (including Viet Nam, Lao PDR and Cambodia), south through Thailand, eastern Myanmar and Malay Peninsula and surrounding islands to Indonesia (Sumatra, Kalimantan and western Java). They are strictly arboreal, living in the treetops in lowland tropical rainforests. They also live in highlands and adapt readily to plantations and disturbed forests edges.
Habits and lifestyle
Sunda flying lemurs live either solitary or in small groups that are loosely connected. They can be territorial as regards foraging and sleeping areas. They are mainly nocturnal. They are strictly arboreal and in the daytime they sleep high within dense foliage in the treetops or in holes in trees. With all four of their feet, they cling on to the trunk of a tree or the underside of branches. Climbing involves stretching out their two front legs and then bringing up their two back legs, which results in an awkward hopping. They can glide more than 100 m with minimal loss in elevation. When threatened they either climb higher up or remain motionless. These animals are quite helpless if on the forest floor.
Diet and nutrition
Not much is known about the reproduction and mating of Sunda flying lemurs. They will mate at any time of the year. Gestation lasts about 60 days and a single offspring is born, rarely, twins. Young are underdeveloped when born and weigh about 35 g. Until weaned they travel clinging to their mother’s belly, who will also fold her patagium near her tail to provide a soft warm pouch for her baby. Weaning is at six months old, and sexual maturity is reached at around three years. Females can mate again soon after giving birth, and may be pregnant when still nursing.
Despite Sunda flying lemurs being fairly adaptive to a habitat of disturbed forests, they have been decreasing in number due to loss of habitat from logging and the development of farm land. Local subsistence hunting is also a serious threat, as well as competition in plantations with the plantain squirrel.
The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Sunda flying lemur total population size. However, the Encyclopedia of Life resource states that the population density of this species has been estimated for the 2,000 hectares of Singapore’s protected forests at one individual for each two hectares, an estimate of about 1000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC), but its numbers today are decreasing.
Sunda flying lemurs eat fruit and flowers and so may have a role in seed dispersal and flower pollination.
Fun facts for kids
- The flying lemur’s name is misleading, because it is not a lemur and it cannot truly fly.
- This species was previously classified as and/or linked with insectivores, bats, and primates.
- Sunda flying lemurs are difficult to breed and keep alive in captivity. There are few formal studies about them, and little is known to date.
- The Sunda flying lemur forages mainly in tree canopies and it may forage on a range of tree species in one night, or just on a single species. Sometimes it will lick tree bark from certain species to obtain water, salts, minerals and nutrients.
- Sunda flying lemurs are skillful climbers, but are helpless on the ground.
- These animals need a certain distance for gliding and landing without injury. The strongest landing forces occur after short glides, with longer glides leading to softer landings, as they can brake their glide aerodynamically.
- This species is just as comfortable hanging from underneath a branch as it is sitting on a branch.