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.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel

Red Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista petaurista
Petaurista petaurista

Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae, Pteromyini

Description: Varies considerably in colour; its upper parts are mostly dark rufous or greyish-brown to black, except for the tip of its nose, ears, ring around eye and feet, which are black. Its tail is dark bay over the whole length except the tip, which is black. Its underside is greyish-buff to orange-tawny and its ears are blackish.

Distribution: Occurs in southern China, Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Nepal, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and various offshore islands from elevations ranging from 200–4000 metres. Its habitat in the Malay Peninsula includes primary and secondary forest up to 1000 metres elevation with increased abundance in more disturbed replanted habitat.

In Borneo, it occurs in gardens, plantations, forests and open areas with only a few tall trees. It is known to shelter within large leafy nests made of sticks and vegetable matter. In Taiwan it appears to show a strong preference for hardwood forests, usually living at lower altitudes than the Taiwan Giant Flying Squirrel where their distribution overlaps.

Reproduction: Females are sexually active in May—July and November—January, during which about half the females become pregnant. The female most likely has two young, as in other giant flying squirrels. Weaning occurs from 90–120 days.

Diet: Includes seeds, fruit, leaves and shoots. In Malaysia, it is known to eat the Collared Fig (Ficus crassiramea). In Taiwan, its diet includes the leaves of Mucuna macrocarpa, Machilus japonica, Taiwan Turpinia (Turpina formosana) and Ring-cupped Oak (Quercus glauca); leaves and fruit of Stone Oak (Pasania kawakamii), Debregeasia edulus, Chinese Mulberry (Morus australis) and Japanese Fig (Ficus erecta).

Other food items include leaves and flowers of the Fried Egg Plant (Gordonia axillaris); buds of Taiwan White Pine (Pinus morrisonicola); seeds of Cunninghamia (Cunninghamia konishii) and Taiwan Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis). It also eats the flowers of Cream Hibiscus (Hibiscus taiwanensis) and Princess Tree (Paulownia fortunei), the bark of the Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), and the fruit of the Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila).

Another study in Taiwan found them to consume the leaves of Japanese Chinquapin (Castanopsis cuspidata) most often, followed by Strangler Fig (Ficus superba) and Buttonwood (Glochidion acuminatum). In Taiwan this species causes significant damage to forest plantations by debarking, resulting in the death of trees such as Japanese Cedar. As a result there has been a need to control them.

Ecology: A mostly nocturnal species living alone or in small groups, it becomes active shortly before dusk, but occasionally is active during the day, resting on exposed parts of tall trees until mid-morning. It can make continuous glides of about 100 metres. It nests in tree hollows at least 10 metres above the ground, but occasionally in crannies in cliffs.

The nest can be in the fork of a tree or within a tree cavity and is lined with leaves and its own fur. Densities have been recorded of between 0.56 animals per 10 hectares in coniferous plantations and 2.35 animals per hectare in hardwood forests. It is considered a pest in some villages as it feeds on the fruits of plantations.

Status: Least Concern.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista petaurista
Red Giant Flying Squirrel
Petaurista petaurista
Distribution: Red Giant Flying Squirrel
HB285–520 mm
TL342–630 mm
HF63–83 mm
M989–2900 g

Other species:

Indian Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista philippensis
Indian Giant Flying Squirrel

Petaurista philippensis

Chinese Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista xanthotis
Chinese Giant Flying Squirrel

Petaurista xanthotis

Random species

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.