Philippine flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans)

Also known as: flying lemur, gliding lemur, Philippine colugo
Synonyms: Galeopithecus volans, Galeopterus volans
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDermoptera
FamilyCynocephalidae
GenusCynocephalus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 33 – 38 cm (2)
Weight1 – 1.5 kg (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Philippine flying lemur has a strange appearance, and a strange name, as it is neither a true flier, nor a true lemur! It is in fact a rather unique gliding mammal that possesses a distinctive gliding membrane, or patagium, that stretches from the side of the neck to the tips of the fingers and toes, and down to the tip of the tail. The patagium stretches out into the shape of a kite and enables the Philippine flying lemur to glide through the forest for over 100 metres (2) (3). The fur varies greatly in colour and pattern, but generally males are some shade of brown and females are greyish. Both sexes have paler underparts and a shaded, mottled appearance that blends well with the bark of trees (3). The large eyes hint at the flying lemur’s nocturnal habits, and they also provide superior vision for accurately judging landings following a glide (2). The Philippine flying lemur has strong, sharp claws with which it anchors itself to a tree trunk or underside of a branch (2).

Occurs in the southern Philippines (3).

The Philippine flying lemur inhabits primary forest, secondary forest, coconut groves and rubber plantations in mountainous and lowland areas (3).

Secretive and nocturnal, the Phillipine flying lemur spends the day in tree holes, or gripping a tree trunk or branch with its patagium extended over its body like a cloak. It has also been seen curled up in a ball among the palm fronds of a coconut plantation (2). It ventures out of its shelter at dusk, climbs a short distance up a tree and then glides off in search of food (3). It is capable of executing controlled glides of over 100 metres, with little loss in height (2) (3). While gliding, the Philippine flying lemur is vulnerable to fast-flying birds of prey, such as the majestic Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi). However, gliding is by far their most efficient method of locomotion; on the ground they cannot stand erect and are virtually helpless, and in the trees they are skilful, but very slow, climbers and move in a series of lingering hops (2) (3).

The Philippine flying lemur feeds on the young, nutritious leaves from a wide range of trees. With its front foot, it pulls a branch towards itself, moving a bunch of leaves within reach (4). Its stomach is specially adapted for ingesting large quantities of leafy vegetation (2) (4), but it also eats buds, flowers and perhaps soft fruits, and obtains sufficient water from its food and by licking wet leaves (2).

Gestation in the Philippine flying lemur lasts for around 60 days, after which the female gives birth to one, rarely two, young (2) (3). They are born in an undeveloped state and carried on the mother, even as she glides, until they are weaned at six months. The patagium can be folded near the tail into a soft, warm ‘hammock’ in which the young can be carried (2). The Philippine flying lemur reaches adult size at two to three years of age (2).

The Philippine flying lemur is threatened by the loss of its forest habitat, due to logging and the conversion of land for agricultural use (2), and the remaining populations of the Philippine flying lemur now occur in isolated forest fragments (3). The threat of habitat loss is compounded by hunting for its soft fur and meat, which is considered a local delicacy (2). Due to its relatively low rates of reproduction and slow rate of maturation, the Philippine flying lemur is very susceptible to population declines caused by such threats, and recovery from a decline would be slow and difficult (3).

At present there are no known conservation measures in place specifically for the Philippine flying lemur, although a number of organizations are working to conserve the forests of the Philippines. It is thought that the most effective step to take to ensure this unique species’ survival is the establishment and enforced protection of reserves within its range (2).

For further information on the Philippine flying lemur see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. MacKinnon, K. (2006) Colugos. In: Macdonald, D.W. (Ed) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. Wischusen, E.W. and Richmond, M.E. (1998) Foraging Ecology of the Philippine Flying Lemur (Cynocephalus volans). Journal of Mammalogy, 79(4): 1288 - 1295.