Flying Lemur

Last updated: May 25, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

The second pair of upper incisors in a flying lemur has a double root, which is unique for mammals.



Flying Lemur Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Dermoptera
Family
Cynocephalidae

Flying Lemur Conservation Status

Flying Lemur Locations

Flying Lemur Locations

Flying Lemur Facts

Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Infant
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
Fun Fact
The second pair of upper incisors in a flying lemur has a double root, which is unique for mammals.
Estimated Population Size
101,000
Biggest Threat
Habitat destruction, hunting
Most Distinctive Feature
Its ability to glide
Other Name(s)
Colugo, cobego, flying cat, kagwang
Gestation Period
60 days for the Sunda, 105 days for the Philippine
Litter Size
1 or 2
Habitat
Tropical rain forests
Predators
Humans, snakes, Philippine eagle
Diet
Herbivore
Type
Mammal
Common Name
Flying lemur
Number Of Species
2
Location
Southeast Asia
Group
Mostly solitary though can form small groups

Flying Lemur Physical Characteristics

Colour
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
22.5 mph
Lifespan
About 15 to 17.5 years in captivity
Weight
Sunda: 2 to 4.5 pounds; Philippine 2.2 to 3.85 pounds
Length
Sunda 19.88 to 27.17 inches; Philippine, 13 to 15 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
2 to 3 years
Age of Weaning
6 months

Flying Lemur Images

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The Flying Lemur is not a lemur, and it can’t fly!

Of all the gliding mammals, which including flying squirrels and flying possums, flying lemurs are the most adept. This is because of their patagium, a membrane covered with fur that acts much like a parasail as they glide from one tree to the other. This membrane is connected to the animal’s face, all four of its paws, and its tail. Flying lemurs are elusive, live in the treetops, and are most active at night.

4 Incredible Flying Lemur Facts!

Some facts about the flying lemur are:

  • Flying lemurs are not lemurs at all but belong to the family Cynocephalidae and the Dermoptera order. They are fairly closely related to humans.
  • They’re only found naturally in Sunda and Indochina.
  • They have teeth that look like little combs, and they are indeed used to groom their thick fur.
  • A female can turn her patagium into a pouch to hold her baby.

Flying Lemur Scientific Name

So far, there are two species of flying lemur. The scientific name of the Sunda flying lemur is Galeopterus variegates, and the scientific name of the Philippine flying lemur or kagwang is Cynocephalus volans. Though the “Galeo” part of Galeopterus is uncertain, “pterus” means wing, and variegates is Latin for variegated, which refers to the colors of the animal’s fur. Cynocephalus means dog-headed from the Greek, and volans is Latin for flying, so its name translates to “flying, dog-headed animal.” The order the animals belong to, Dermoptera, means “skin-wing.”

The Sunda flying lemur has a large and dwarf form. The former is found on the Sunda Shelf, while the dwarf is found in central Laos and the islands near it. There are four subspecies:

  • G. v. variegatus
  • G. v. temminckii
  • G. v. borneanus
  • G. v. peninsulae

The kagwang is thought to be the only species in its genus so far, but some biologists believe that two other species exist. These are the Bornean and the Javan flying lemurs.


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Flying Lemur Appearance

The Sunda lemur has a small head and ears and protuberant eyes that face forward like a primate’s. They have dense fur that is white or pale beneath and shades of white, red, black, or gray above. Its legs, which are all about the same size, are joined by the patagium. The animal’s feet are webbed and clawed. The fur may also have lichen-colored blotches that help camouflage the animal if it senses something dangerous in the area. When the Sunda flying lemur glides it can stretch its patagium to around 27.5 inches thanks to a muscle in its side.

The Philippine flying lemur or kagwang is smaller than the Sunda flying lemur, and its fur tends to be darker and less variegated. Its head resembles that of the flying fox, but it’s not related to this fruit bat. Like the Sunda flying lemur, it has a small head and ears and huge forward-facing eyes that help it see in the dark, and its retinas lack blood vessels, which is unusual for a mammal. Also, like the Sunda flying lemur, the limbs of the Philippine flying lemur are about the same length, and the animal has claws on its feet that let it climb and hang on to tree trunks and tree limbs.

Both species are nocturnal. They do not engage in swimming in the water, though they appear to be swimming beautifully through the air. They are nearly helpless on the ground, since they can’t stand up, and spend their entire lives in the trees.

A flying lemur with two babies on her back, balancing on a rope.
A flying lemur with two babies on her back, balancing on a rope.

Flying Lemur Behavior

This lemur’s day begins at night or just before the sun sets and ends just before the sun rises again. During this time they forage for food, gliding from one tree to the other in search of provender. To do this they’ll climb to the very top of a tree, launch into the air, and land on another tree trunk after a controlled glide that lasts for a few seconds. Then, they climb up to the top of that tree and repeat the process. Climbing for the colugo is a slow and awkward-looking process, as they seem to “hop” up the tree. On the other hand, both the Sunda and Philippine lemurs can easily glide more than 328 feet without stalling.

The colugo is mostly solitary and can be territorial. Some biologists estimate that the territory of a Sunda flying lemur is about two hectares. Sometimes a group can be seen in one tree, though they are careful to keep a certain distance from each other. During the day the colugo rests and shelters in a cavity in a tree.

Flying Lemur Habitat

The habitat of both species of these lemurs is the multi-storied tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia and Indochina. Though their habitat is being fractured due to agriculture and other human activity, the flying lemur has adapted well to the changes and can also be found on rubber and coconut plantations. Indeed, the kagwang has developed a trick of wrapping itself into a ball as it hangs from a coconut palm. When it does this, its brownish-gray fur makes it look like a coconut.

Flying Lemur Diet

These lemurs have dangerous-looking teeth that are often seen in carnivores, but they are mostly herbivores. They eat young leaves, ripe fruit, flowers, and shoots. Sometimes they’ll eat insects and sometimes they’ll lick the bark of trees for minerals, water, and sap. Their digestive system is well developed to break down the fiber, tannins, and other materials in their diet.

Flying Lemur Predators and Threats

The main threat and predator of these lemurs is the human. Humans cause habitat fragmentation and destruction and some humans hunt lemurs for food. The Philippine flying lemur is also preyed upon by the enormous and deadly Philippine eagle and other dangerous raptors.

When a flying lemur is confronted by a predator, it will either freeze in place and try to blend in with the foliage or it will simply glide away, swimming easily through the air to another tree and out of danger. But gliding is less useful if the predator is a human armed with a spear or a rifle.

Flying Lemur Reproduction and Life Cycle

Biologists are not sure about how these lemurs court and mate, but they do know that they mate throughout the year and that females can become pregnant again soon after they give birth. The Sunda flying is pregnant for 60 days, while the Philippine lemur is pregnant for about 105 days. Both usually give birth to only one infant at a time, though twins will be born from time to time.

Other facts that make these lemurs unusual: their babies are born in a very underdeveloped state, as with marsupials. They weigh only a little over an ounce and have just enough strength to cling to the fur of their mother’s belly. Instead of a pouch, the mother will wrap the baby in her patagium to keep it warm and safe.

The baby is fed from two teats found near its mother’s armpits. It is weaned when it’s about six months old and becomes sexually mature when it’s between two and three years old.

Biologists believe the lifespan of these lemurs is about 15 years, and it is ready to breed between the ages of two and three years.

Flying Lemur Population

Both the Sunda and the Philippine lemurs are of least concern according to the IUCN Red List despite the environmental pressures they are under. There are about 100,000 Philippine lemurs and 1000 Sunda lemurs.

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Flying Lemur FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is a flying lemur?

A flying lemur is a small animal that lives in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. It is related to primates and is known for its ability to make controlled glides between the trees. Other unusual facts about the flying lemur are that it has teeth shaped like tiny combs, no blood vessels in its retinas and its babies are born very underdeveloped like the babies of marsupials.

Why do sunda flying lemurs have tails?

Sunda flying lemurs have tails in order to maintain their balance as they glide through and between the trees.

What is a flying lemur called?

A flying lemur has several names, including flying cat, kagwang, colugo, and cobego. However, it is not a lemur, and it doesn’t really fly.

Is a colugo a bat?

The colugo is not a bat and is not related to a bat. A colugo or flying lemur doesn’t actually fly like a bat does but glides from place to place. The bat is the only mammal that can achieve true flight.

Do flying lemurs bite?

A flying lemur has a strong bite that it uses to chew the leaves and other vegetation that it eats. It is quite possible that it can bite a human if it feels threatened, though the data on that is scarce.

Can a flying lemur swim?

A flying lemur cannot swim. It can barely walk on land and is a slow climber. It lives nearly exclusively in the trees.

How long does a flying lemur live?

The lifespan of a flying lemur appears to be about 15 years, and the longest-lived captive flying lemur lived for 17.5 years.

Can a flying lemur be a pet?

A flying lemur should not be kept as a pet. These animals are adapted to living in the treetops in tropical rainforests. They also have a specialized diet that would be hard for an ordinary person to replicate. Since they are able to glide hundreds of feet at a time, they require the type of space that most people can’t provide. So, no, the colugo should not be kept as a pet.

Sources
  1. WWF, Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/fall-2018/articles/flying-lemurs-or-colugos-can-t-technically-fly-and-aren-t-technically-lemurs
  2. Wiki.nus, Available here: https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/TAX/Galeopterus+variegatus+-+Malayan+Colugo
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colugo
  4. Animal Diversity Web, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cynocephalus_volans/
  5. National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/why-do-flying-lemurs-glide
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3819077/

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