Philippine Flying Lemur
(Cynocephalus volans)
This species' most distinctive feature is its large gliding membrane or patagium, which stretches from the animal’s neck to the tips of the fingers, toes and tail. No other gliding mammal has such an extensive membrane. The animals are totally arboreal and spend virtually their entire lives up in the canopy, where they glide gracefully from tree to tree, covering distances of 100 metres or more. The species is thought to be threatened by habitat loss. It reproduces very slowly, suggesting that it would not recover quickly from population declines.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Management plans should be implemented immediately for any threatened populations.
Mindanao, Basilan, Samar, Leyte and Bohol (Philippines).
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Dermoptera
Family: Cynocephalidae
The Dermoptera (“skin-wings”) currently includes only one family, the Cynocephalidae (colugos or flying lemurs), but may once have contained another family, the extinct Plagiomenidae, known from the late Paleocene and early Eocene of North America (60-70 million years ago). The fossil record of the Cynocephalidae dates back to the late Eocene of southern Thailand. The family contains two living species in two genera: Cynocephalus volans (Philippine flying lemur) Galeopterus variegatus (Malayan flying lemur)
Head and body length: 340-420 mm
Tail length: 175-270 mm
Weight: 1.0-1.75 kg
Colugos or flying lemurs are neither true fliers nor true lemurs. Their most distinctive feature is the large gliding membrane or patagium, which stretches from the animal’s neck to the tips of the fingers, toes and tail. No other gliding mammal has such an extensive membrane. The arms, legs and tail are long and slender. The feet are broad, and all digits are tipped with sharp, curved claws, which allow the animals to grip trees and hang upside down from branches like the South American sloths. Colugos are about the size of a domestic cat, and have a broad head, short rounded ears and large eyes, which help them to see in the dark. The lower incisors are developed into peculiar “tooth comb” that vaguely resemble the teeth of true lemurs (primates). This tooth comb may function in scraping or straining food or in grooming. The Philippine colugo is smaller and darker than the Malayan species, and lacks conspicuous white spots. There is great variation in colour and pattern, which enables the animals to blend well with the barks of trees. The upper parts of males tend to be brownish while those of females are greyish; the underparts are paler.
The species is totally arboreal. The animals seldom, if ever descend to the ground, where they are virtually helpless. With the wide patagium and non-opposable thumbs, colugos are rather slow, clumsy climbers, ascending tree trunks in a series of slow lurches with head up and limbs spread to grasp the tree. Once up in the branches they move and feed in an upside-down position. The wide patagium enables the animals to glide gracefully between the trees, covering distances of 100 m or more with little loss in height. The animals are largely nocturnal. In forests they spend their days in holes or hollows of trees about 25-50 m above the ground, but in coconut plantations they curl up in a ball or hang from a palm frond, with all four feet close together. The animals climb up into the trees at dusk and glide off to seek food, usually covering distances of around 1-1.5 km. They usually glide to the same spots on the same food trees night after night. The animals feed almost exclusively on young foliage, although they may also eat fruit, buds and flowers in addition to leaves. Like many arboreal mammals, colugos probably obtain sufficient water from their food and by licking wet leaves. Little is known about the social life of this species. Several individuals may share the same shelter, but they are thought to be mostly solitary when moving at night. In one study home ranges measured 6.4-13.4 ha, and overlapped extensively. Allogrooming and other friendly interaction has been observed between adults of opposite sexes and between adults and young, but adult males sometimes display hostility towards one another. Breeding is thought to occur throughout the year. Females generally give birth to a single young – rarely two – after a gestation of 60 days. The infants are born in an undeveloped state, like a marsupial. Lactating females with unweaned young have been found to be pregnant, suggesting that births may follow in rapid succession. The mother may leave the young in the nest or carry it with her when foraging – the patagium can be folded into a soft, warm pouch to hold the young. Females carrying young usually transfer from tree to tree by moving through the branches rather than gliding. Infants are not weaned until about 6 months and may not attain full adult size until 3 years old. The primary predator of the colugo is the Endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).
Inhabit both lowland and mountainous areas. They may be found in primary or secondary forests, coconut groves and rubber plantations.
The Philippine Islands of Mindanao, Basilan, Samar, Leyte and Bohol.
Population Estimate
May originally have numbered 9,450,000 individuals, but the current estimate is 100,000.
Population Trend
Classified as Vulnerable (VU A1c+2c) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The species is limited to a small and rapidly developing region. Like other forest species, it may be threatened by the loss of its habitat through logging and conversion to agriculture. The colugo’s ability to persist in disturbed forest and plantations make them more resilient than many species. However, there are concerns that many animals are now trapped in isolated forest fragments with little chance of genetic exchange. The species is also threatened by hunting for its fur and meat, and is sometimes killed by plantation owners, who regard it as a pest. The very slow rates of reproduction and maturation suggest that the species would not recover quickly from declines.
Conservation Underway
Some research into behaviour and reproductive biology of the species has been conducted, but no conservation measures are currently in place.
Conservation Proposed
Management plans should be implemented immediately for any threatened populations.
MacDonald, D. (ed.). 2002. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

McCance, E. 1996. Cynocephalus volans. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 01 December 2006.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Wischusen, E., W., Ingle, N. R. and Richmond, M. E. 1992. Observations on the reproductive biology and social behaviour of the Philippine flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans). Malayan Nature Journal 46(1): 65-71.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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