Vanishing Species – Indian Giant Flying Squirrels


An article by Mohan Pai

 
Indian Giant Flying Squirrels
Petaurista philippensis

 
The Flying Squirrels are actually gliding mammals incapable of sustained flights.
 

The term flying is somewhat misleading, since flying squirrels are actually gliding mammals incapable of sustained flight. Steering is accomplished by adjusting tautness of the patagium, largely controlled by a small cartilaginous wrist bone. The tail acts as a stabilizer in flight, much like the tail of a kite, and as an adjunct airfoil when “braking” prior to landing on a tree trunk.

 
Though their life expectancy is only about six years in the wild, flying squirrels often live between 10 and 15 years in captivity. This difference is due to these creatures being important prey animals. Predation mortality rates in sub-adults are very high. Predators include arboreal snakes, raccoons, nocturnal owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, and the domestic house cat. They are also nocturnal.
 
Indian Giant Flying Squirrel is the common large flying squirrel found over most of peninsular India – all other flying squirrels are restricted to the Himalayas and the Northeast and one is restricted to the Western Ghats. Its coat varies from coffee-brown to a predominantly grey colour.
 
Habitat
Deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen forests of Goa, Maharashtra, parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
 

Red Giant Flying Squirrel
Petaurista petaurista
This dark red species is also called the Indian Flying Squirrel. Its elastic skin, which it uses to glide, is attached from wrist to ankle. It has large black-ringed, liquid brown eyes. The long slender tail is furred but not bushy and is carried curved on the back.
This squirrel runs up to the top-most branches of a tree before launching into a glide that can easily extend up to 100 m. While passing overhead it makes a noise like rushing wind. It has a monotonous call, which sounds like someone exhaling sharply.
Habitat
Restricted to forests only, this squirrel is not found near human habitations. It inhabits the Himalayan foothills from J&K to Assam and Manipur.
 

Wooly Flying Squirrel
Eupetaurus cinereus

This is a high altitude flying squirrel with long silken hair, rather than wooly hair as its name suggests. Larger than the genus Petaurista, it also looks bulkier because of its dense fur. Its blue-grey coat is uniformly coloured, except for a paler tip on its long, heavily furred tail.
The Wooly flying squirrel does not hibernate like the other Himalayan flying squirrels. It reportedly prefers rocky caves to trees.
Habitat
Coniferous, dwarf rhododendron and juniper forests, and the mountain steppe in northern J&K (Hunza, Gilgit) and Sikkim (2,800 m and above).

 
Reference: A Field Guide to Indian Mammals by Vivek Menon, Wikipedia
 
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