Colugos (Dermoptera), who are also referred to as flying lemurs, are creatures who are somewhat confusing to us. To begin, they’re not actually lemurs. In fact, they’re not even related to lemurs, other than the two mammals have somewhat similar teeth. (Both have a toothcomb, which, as the name implies, is a set of front teeth that looks like a miniature comb.)
Colugos don’t really fly either. However, they do look like lemurs, and when they glide through the air, they do look like they’re flying. They also have a lot of fans on social media. As you learn more about them, you’ll soon see why.
Here are some interesting facts and frequently asked questions about colugos, otherwise known as flying lemurs:
1. What are colugos?
Colugos are tree-dwelling (arboreal) mammals. There are two distinct species: the Sunda flying lemur (Galeopterus variegatus) and the Philippine flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans.)
2. Why are colugos called flying lemurs?
Colugos are called flying lemurs because their heads resemble those of lemurs and, like some lemurs, they are nocturnal. In addition, colugos have what’s called a patagium, which is a fur-covered membrane that connects to their face, claws, and tail. The patagium acts like a wing suit, allowing them to glide through the air.
3. Are colugos related to bats?
Colugos do share some similar qualities with bats. Like bats, they have webbed feet, which helps them glide and grip onto trees. In addition, scientists studying ultrasound bat communications discovered, by chance, that Sunda colugos also communicate using ultrasound (in addition to making audible sounds.)
However, colugos are not directly related to bats. Instead, they share a common ancestor with bats, which is surprisingly – primates. Other studies have linked colugos with another Southeast Asian mammal, the treeshrew, who also shares a distant primate ancestor.
But this is where the mystery of colugos gets more intriguing. Although colugos are distantly related to primates, they lack opposable thumbs. In general, there is still much to be understood about these unusual animals.
4. How big are flying lemurs?
Colugos range in size from the size of squirrel to a house cat.
5. Can flying lemurs actually fly?
Colugos do not actually fly. In the way a hang glider sails through the air, colugos glide, with their patagium acting like a hang glider’s sail.
6. Do flying lemurs have wings?
Colugos do not have wings. As described earlier, they have what is called a patagium, which is a fur-covered membrane that connects to their face, claws, and tail. Their patagium enables them to glide in the air for up to 650 feet (200 meters) between trees.
When not in use, the colugo’s patagium drapes down. In addition to helping them fly, female colugos use their patagium like a cape to shield their babies.
The physics of how flying lemurs glide is basically the same as the daredevils who wear wingsuits. They don’t actually fly by flapping their wings; instead they sail through the air. Here’s a video from aYpochify to illustrate. (Don’t try this at home!)
7. Why do they glide?
Biologists who study animals who fly and glide attest that gliding is not the most energy-efficient way to travel. However, they assume that flying lemurs do it because it’s a fast way to get from Point A to Point B. And the colugos’ patagium is one of the largest in the animal kingdom relative to their body size, making them very fast and efficient gliders. When gliding, their patagium spans about 12–16 inches (30-40 cm.)
8. Where do flying lemurs live?
Colugos are native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia. As their name implies, Philippine colugos are found in the Philippines. And the Sunda colugo is found in the rainforests of Java, Borneo, Sumatra, and Bali, as well as southern Burma, Singapore, Thailand, southern Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos.
In addition to rainforests, as arboreal animals, they can be found in the trees on
coconut, banana, and rubber tree plantations.
While they are adept at gliding from tree to tree and holding on tightly to tree branches with their four feet, they are quite helpless on the ground.
Generally, flying lemurs live alone or in small, loosely connected groups. They can be quite territorial about their sleeping branches and food sources.
Here’s a video from Jexx Tay that shows you what colugos look like “live and in person”:
9. What do colugos eat?
As they spend their lives living in trees, colugos’ diet consists mainly of what you would find in trees. This includes young leaves, as well as flowers, and the occasional piece of fruit. In addition, the Philippine colugo is known to eat insects.
10. How do colugos reproduce?
There’s not much information about the reproduction of flying lemurs. However, we do know that they don’t have a set season in which they mate; rather, they mate throughout the year.
Colugos generally have just one baby but will occasionally have twins. The baby colugos are quite underdeveloped when they’re born. Thus, they are totally dependent on their mother for their first six months of life.
They cling to their mother’s stomach as she climbs and glides until they are weaned. But even though they are weaned in about six months, colugos don’t reach full maturity until about two years of age.
11. How long do colugos live?
In the wild, colugos live to about 15 years of age.
12. Can flying lemurs swim?
Colugos are not known to be swimmers. As they spend most of their time in trees, the only time they might be near water is to drink it. However, they are able to stay hydrated by licking wet leaves.
13. Do they have any predators?
Colugos do have one main predator: the Philippine eagle, also referred to as the monkey-eating eagle.
We humans are an unnatural predator, as our activities are disrupting their natural habitats. In addition, colugos are often killed by people working on tree plantations because they view the colugos as pests.
14. Do flying lemurs bite?
Colugos are not known to bite human beings because their natural habitat is generally out of reach from us.
15. Are flying lemurs dangerous?
No, they are not dangerous to us. We are far more dangerous to them.
16. Are colugos endangered?
The Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists colugos as species of Least Concern, which means they don’t face imminent threats. Some populations live in protected areas, such as in national parks in Malaysia and Java.
However, in other areas, their natural habitats are under threat. For instance, the island of Sumatra has undergone heavy deforestation over the past two decades, losing 40 percent of its old growth forests. Overall, the IUCN states that more research needs to be done on the conservation status and natural habitats of colugos.
17. How can I help them?
A number of organizations are focused on protecting Southeast Asian rainforests, which is the natural habitat of colugos. Here are some organizations that are doing so.