Colugos are commonly referred to as flying lemurs, even though they do not technically fly and they are not lemurs, primate mammals found in Madagascar. Colugos are about the size of a cat, approximately 20 inches (75 centimeters) long.
They weigh about 3 pounds (1.35 kilograms).
Their ability to glide—not fly—is due to their most distinctive feature, after which they are named. The order they belong to, Dermoptera, means “skin wings” in Greek, referring to the flap of skin that extends between the front and hind limbs. This thin layer of skin or membrane is called a patagium (pah-TAY-jee-um). The patagium stretches from the side of the neck to the tips of its fingers, toes, and tail. When the front and hind legs are spread out, the patagium allows the colugo to glide like a kite. The patagium also acts as a parachute, catching air inside of it as it jumps. This parachute effect prevents colugos from losing too much height as they move between trees.
Colugos resemble lemurs, with long noses and wide bulging eyes. The shape of their head and snout is similar to a greyhound dog. They have small round ears and sharp claws.
The fur of male colugos is generally brown to red-brown and in females the fur is grayish brown. Malayan colugos have white spots on their fur, but Philippine colugos do not. The underside of the animal is a lighter orange-yellow, orange, or brownish red color.
The Philippine colugo is found only in the Philippines, and the Malayan colugo is found in Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, Indochina, and some of the Indonesian islands.
Colugos live in the rainforest. They are often found in coconut, banana, and rubber plantations. Their habitat must contain many trees with few branches low on the trunk.
WHAT DO COLUGO EAT
Colugos are herbivores, animals that eat plants. They feed on leaves, buds, flowers, and occasionally fruits. They get their water from food and also by licking wet leaves.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Relatively little is known about colugos. They are arboreal, meaning they spend most of their time in trees and bushes. They are solitary animals that move from tree to tree by climbing and gliding. These animals are nocturnal, active at night. They spend the day resting inside tree holes or on branches or tree trunks. They rest either with their head up and all four claws clinging to a branch, or they hang upside down with their two rear claws holding onto the branch. In coconut trees, they curl up in a ball among the leaves. Colugos usually emerge before dusk and climb to the top of trees. They move awkwardly up trees because of their patagium, bringing both their front limbs together and then both back limbs. In the evening they move to a feeding area, gliding distances up to 230 feet (70 meters) in one leap. Colugos have been known to glide as far as 450 feet (135 meters) in a single glide. Colugos may land near the bottom of trees, and then climb back up trees slowly before they take off on another glide.
Each colugo tends to have a certain feeding area, which the animal returns to every night. When eating, colugos use their front feet to pull a bunch of leaves towards them, and then use their tongues and teeth to pluck off the leaves. Little is known about the mating of colugos. Females give birth to one or two young following a gestation, or pregnancy, period of sixty days. The offspring is born in an undeveloped state, almost like a marsupial, an animal that carries its young in a pouch. Young are carried on their mother’s belly until they are weaned at about six months old. Females can fold the patagium near the tail to form a pouch for their young. When ready to forage, or look for food, females may carry their young with them. Young colugos cry out with duck-like sounds. Young colugos reach maturity when they are about two or three years old.
COLUGOS AND PEOPLE
Deforestation, clearing trees, of the rainforest by people has caused the loss of colugo habitat and thus, a decrease in their population. Some people also hunt colugos for their fur to make caps, and for food. Plantation growers, especially banana, conut, and rubber growers, may consider these animals pests because they eat the reproductive flowers and fruits of the trees.
The Philippine colugo is considered Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.