Cynocephalidae – Colugos

Gliding through the tropical nights!

Colugos are among the natural world’s most fascinating and yet underappreciated mammals. Known for their extraordinary ability to glide through the air, colugos possess a unique anatomical adaptation: a wide membrane of skin that extends from their face, along the limbs, to the tips of their tail and toes. This membrane, covered in fur, acts like a parachute or glider wing, enabling these creatures to soar from tree to tree over distances of up to 70 meters (approximately 230 feet) in a single bound. This ability makes them the most proficient gliders among all mammals, a remarkable feat of evolution that allows them to navigate the forest canopy with ease and grace.

The Cynocephalidae family comprises only two species: the Sunda flying lemur (Galeopterus variegatus) and the Philippine flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans). Despite their common names, colugos are not lemurs and do not truly fly; instead, they glide through the air. Found exclusively in Southeast Asia, these nocturnal mammals inhabit the tropical rainforests of the region, from Thailand and Malaysia to Indonesia and the Philippines.

Interestingly, colugos are more closely related to primates than any other group of mammals, a lineage particularly evident in their physical characteristics. For instance, colugos have forward-facing eyes, which they share with primates, including humans. This anatomical feature grants them binocular vision, significantly enhancing their depth perception—a critical adaptation for animals that need to judge distances accurately while gliding from tree to tree in search of food or evading predators.

Habitat loss is a major concern primarily due to deforestation for agricultural expansion, logging, and urban development. As forests shrink, colugos lose their homes, food sources, and the “launch pads” and landing sites crucial for their gliding lifestyle. Additionally, they are hunted for their meat and fur, further exacerbating their decline.