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.

Indian Giant Flying Squirrel

Indian Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista philippensis
Petaurista philippensis

Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae, Pteromyini

Description: Although its colour varies considerably over its distribution; overall it is a strongly speckled grey above and pale grey below, without a brown or orange tinge.

Where it coexists with the Red Giant Flying Squirrel, such as in parts of Thailand, it is distinguished especially by the tail which is either uniformly coloured (usually grey or black) or darkens gradually towards the tip without a discrete black tip. Its ears are uniformly coloured or with the anterior margins reddish-brown. The head is not lighter than the rest of the upper surface.

Distribution: Occurs from western peninsula India, north to Rajasthan and southern Bihar (India) and Sri Lanka. Also occurs in southern China, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. In Thailand it appears to coexist with the Red Giant Flying Squirrel at some localities including Huai Ko Mong (Mae Salieng district, Mae Hongson Province) and Bangkok. It occurs in larger forests of the peninsula, south of the Ganges in India.

Reproduction: The female appears to produce only a single young at a time. When the young are born the nest is occupied solely by the mother.

Diet: Somewhat frugivorous, it eats wild fruit, berries, nuts, young shoots, leaves and probably the flowers and immature bark of some trees. It is especially fond of the fruit of the Mango (Mangifera indica) and Tamarind Tree (Tamarindus indicus). In India common food items include fruit and leaves of the Cluster Fig (Ficus racemosa), Wild Durian (Cullenia exarillata) and Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllys).

In the Periyar Tiger Reserve in southern India, it eats the fruits of Lakoocha (Artocarpus lackoocha), Agily (A. hirsutus), Jackfruit (A. integrifolia), Figs (Ficus sp.), Bread Tree (Elaeocarpus oblongus), Rudrak (E. tuberculatus), Bishop Wood (Bischopia javanica), Mountain Persimmon (Diospyros montana), Kannada (Palaquium ellipticum).

It also eats the fruit and flowers of Nutmeg (Myristica contorta), and flowers of Karana (Vernonia arborea) and Kindal (Terminalia paniculata). It is known to eat young tender coconuts, and can cause serious damage to coconut plantations.

Ecology: Lives singly, in pairs or sometimes in family groups. It makes a large nest of leaves, grass, shredded bark, and fibrous roots in the hollow of a tree or branch. One nest was found 18 metres up in a natural hollow in the tree, 1.5 metres in length, lined with grass, moss and fur, and with an entrance at each end. This species is most active before midnight.

During hot weather it may sleep on its back with its legs and gliding membrane outspread to keep cool. Home ranges of adult females in conifer plantations have been estimated to be 3.0–3.45 hectares. Densities range from 11.43–64 animals per square kilometre. Known predators include the Black Crested Gibbon (Nomascus concolor) and large owls, including the Barred Jungle Owlet (Glaucidium radiatum). In the Trichur District of India, farmers give coconuts as rewards to those who kill flying squirrels.

Status: Least Concern.

Note: Several subspecies have been transferred between this species and the Red Giant Flying Squirrel.

Indian Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista philippensis
Indian Giant Flying Squirrel
Petaurista philippensis
Distribution: Indian Giant Flying Squirrel
HB377–610 mm
TL480–691 mm
HF65–90 mm
M1260–2270 g

Petaurista philippensis philippensis — Western peninsula India including Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra north to Mumbai (Bombay); Rajasthan; southern Orrisa and southern Bihar, India and Sri Lanka.

Petaurista philippensis annamensis — Vietnam. Upper parts dark brown to dark red, heavily frosted with white; underparts pale orange-brown. Tail dark red-brown to grey.

Petaurista philippensis cineraceus — Arakan, Burma to Arunchal Pradesh. Very similar to philippensis. Upper parts, including tail and membranes, medium gray; back heavily frosted with long white tips to hairs; underparts greyish-white.

Petaurista philippensis lylei — Yunnan and Guizhou provinces in southern China, eastern Burma, northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Upper parts very dark grey, heavily frosted with white; dorsal membrane, feet and tail black; underparts buff; ears red-fronted.

Petaurista philippensis mergulus — Ross Island, Sullivan Island, King Island, Mergui Archipelago, Burma. Grey above, with yellow or brown tinge and fine agouti speckling, quite different from long-tipped, hoary effect in most mainland forms; underparts off-white; tail grey.

Other species:

Red Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista petaurista
Red Giant Flying Squirrel

Petaurista petaurista

Chinese Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista xanthotis
Chinese Giant Flying Squirrel

Petaurista xanthotis

Yunnan Giant Flying Squirrel / Petaurista yunanensis
Yunnan Giant Flying Squirrel

Petaurista yunanensis

Random species

Malayan Colugo / Galeopterus variegatus

Malayan Colugo
Galeopterus variegatus

Sipora Flying Squirrel / Hylopetes sipora

Sipora Flying Squirrel
Hylopetes sipora

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.