Dermoptera – Colugos

Gliding through the tropical nights!

Colugos, often referred to as flying lemurs, present a masterclass in aerial acrobatics among mammals. With their patagium—a remarkable fur-covered membrane that stretches from the tips of their nose to the end of their tails, encompassing all four limbs—they are equipped to glide through the air with the finesse of a seasoned aviator. This adaptation allows them to soar from tree to tree, covering distances of up to 70 meters (230 feet) in one seamless, graceful arc, making them the consummate gliders in the mammalian world.

The order Dermoptera, to which colugos belong, is an exclusive club with only two extant members: the Sunda flying lemur and the Philippine flying lemur. These nocturnal creatures grace the canopies of Southeast Asia, where they have carved out a niche amidst the dense foliage. Despite their common name, colugos are not true lemurs but are instead more closely related to the primates, a testament to their shared evolutionary paths.

A glance into the eyes of a colugo can be surprisingly revealing. Positioned at the front of the face, much like those of monkeys or even humans, their eyes afford them binocular vision. This trait is vital for depth perception, an essential quality for animals that need to judge distances accurately as they glide between trees in the dim twilight of their forest habitats.

Colugos lead a largely arboreal life, seldom descending to the forest floor, a behavior that underscores their reliance on the vertical refuge provided by trees. Their diet is as aerial as their locomotion, consisting mostly of soft plant parts like leaves, flowers, and fruits, which they forage at night.

The existence of colugos, however, is overshadowed by the persistent threats of habitat destruction and hunting. The forests that provide them sanctuary are diminishing due to logging and the expansion of agricultural land. Moreover, colugos are hunted for various reasons—some for their meat, others for their distinctive fur. These pressures have rendered both species vulnerable and underscore the urgent need for conservation efforts.