Central Catchment Reserve - Rare Flying Lemur

Central Catchment Reserve
Central, Singapore
October 2014

The Central Catch Reserve is always full of surprises. Other than the surprising finds during this trip, Merlion Wayfarer was privileged to see the rare Malayan Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) here today. It was her first sighting in more than five years ago...

What is a Colugo? 

Colugos are mammals from an ancient lineage, with just two species comprising the Order Dermoptera from the Greek words derma, meaning "skin", and the ptera, meaning "wing", thus "skin-wing". Also called 'Flying Lemurs', though they are not closely related to the Lemurs of Madagascar.

Why Are They Rare? 

Colugos are shy and generally solitary, except for mothers nursing young. During the day they rest high in the trees, clinging to trunks or hiding in tree holes. At dusk they become active, gliding from trunk to trunk silently overhead. 

Their most distinctive feature is the membrane of skin that extends between their limbs and gives them the ability to glide long distances between trees. Of all the gliding mammals, the colugos have the most extensive adaptation to flight. Their gliding membrane, or patagium, is as large as is geometrically possible: it runs from the shoulder blades to the fore paw, from the tip of the rear-most finger to the tip of the toes, and from the hind legs to the tip of the tail; unlike in other known gliding mammals, even the spaces between the fingers and toes are webbed to increase the total surface area, as in the wings of bats.

Both species are threatened by habitat destruction, and the Philippine flying lemur was classified by the IUCN as vulnerable at one time. The IUCN 1996 had declared the species vulnerable due to destruction of lowland forests and hunting. It was downlisted to least concerns in 2008, but still under the same threats as before.

Why Are They So High Up?

Herbivores in diet, colugos eat mainly leaves, young shoots, flower buds and sap.

According to researcher Greg Byrnes, gliding was faster. Colugos are surprisingly clumsy climbers. Lacking opposable thumbs and not being especially strong, they proceed upwards in a series of slow hops, gripping onto the bark of trees with their small, sharp claws. They are as comfortable hanging underneath a branch as sitting on top of it. However, they can go 10 times as fast and cover long distances gliding. This enables them to spend more time foraging,