Logo: Gliding mammals of the world

The world’s gliding mammals are an extraordinary group of animals that have the ability to glide from tree to tree with seemingly effortless grace. There are more than 60 species of gliding mammals including the flying squirrels from Europe and North America, the scaly-tailed flying squirrels from central Africa and the gliding possums of Australia and New Guinea.

Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel

Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista leucogenys
Petaurista leucogenys

Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae, Pteromyini

Description: A large flying squirrel with drab, greyish-brown fur above and whitish underparts, washed with buff. It has a whitish muzzle, dark rufous patches below its eyes, and snowy white cheek patches.

Distribution: Restricted to Japan on the islands of Kyushu, Shikoku and Honshu. It inhabits broad-leaved or mixed forest with evergreen and deciduous trees, including many big trees such as Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Japanese Zelvova (Zelkova serrata), Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora), Japanese Chinquapin (Castanopsis cuspidata) and oaks (Quercus spp.).

Reproduction: It has two mating seasons, one from mid-November to mid-January and a second from mid-May to mid-June. After a gestation period of 74 days, one to four (usually two) young are born from early February to early April and late July to late August.

A male will mate with two to four females and it appears the mothers allow their young to remain with them for a year to 18 months, until they become sexually mature. Males appear to be sexually mature at 21–22 months of age and females after at least 9–10 months of age.

Diet: Includes seeds, leaves, conifers cones, buds, fruits, angiosperm flowers and woody parts. It feeds on the young and mature leaves and buds from a variety of trees including maple (Acer sp.), horse chestnuts (Aesculus sp.), Camphor Laurel, beech (Fagus sp.), plums (and relatives; Prunus sp.), oaks (Quercus spp.) and elm (Zelkova sp.).

It feeds also on fruits, seeds and nuts from maple, camellia (Camellia sp. and Eurya sp.), camphor laurel, Japanese Cedar, beech, walnut (Juglans sp.), Japanese Persimmon (Diospyros kaki), avocado (Persea sp.), plums (and relatives), oaks, torreya (Torreya sp.), linden (Tilia sp.) and elm.

It takes flowers and buds from cypress (Chamaecyparis sp.), camellia, plums and relatives, and oaks; bark from avocado and plums; galls and bark from Japanese Cedar; winter sprouts from maple, camphor laurel, larch (Larix sp.), magnolia (Magnolia sp.), plums, oaks and elms. It also eats lichen. Because the species causes significant damage to plantation trees it has been shot or trapped, leading to its extermination in some parts of Japan.

Ecology: Nests in tree hollows but will nest on branches if suitable natural tree hollows are scarce, with a strong preference for the bark of the Japanese Cedar as a nest material. Rotates between a number of dens after a period of several days to several months. A given nest can be used successively by several individuals.

Females are territorial and rarely intrude into adjacent female territories. Home ranges overlap totally between the sexes, considerably between males but non-overlapping between females. The home range size varies from 0.46–2.68 hectares in females and from 0.78–5.16 hectares in males, depending on distribution pattern of food and nesting sites.

Predators possibly include the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), weasels (Mustela sp.) and martens (Martes sp.). There are recorded observations of Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata) attacking solitary flying squirrels. In captivity and in the wild the longevity appears to be approximately 10 years.

Status: Least Concern.

Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista leucogenys
Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel
Petaurista leucogenys
Distribution: Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel
HB270–485 mm
TL280–414 mm
HF50–73 mm
M495–1250 g

Petaurista leucogenys leucogenys — Kyushu and Shikoku Islands, Japan.

Petaurista leucogenys nikkonis — Central and northern, Honshu Island, Japan.

Petaurista leucogenys oreas — Southern Peninsula, Honshu Island, Japan.

Other species:

Random species

Feathertail Glider / Acrobates pygmaeus

Feathertail Glider
Acrobates pygmaeus

Bartel’s Flying Squirrel / Hylopetes bartelsi

Bartel’s Flying Squirrel
Hylopetes bartelsi

Travancore Flying Squirrel / Petinomys fuscocapillus

Travancore Flying Squirrel
Petinomys fuscocapillus

Gliding Mammals of the World provides, for the first time, a synthesis of all that is known about the biology of these intriguing mammals. It includes a brief description of each species, together with a distribution map and a beautiful full-color painting.

An introduction outlines the origins and biogeography of each group of gliding mammals and examines the incredible adaptations that allow them to launch themselves and glide from tree to tree.