Also known as “flying lemurs”, Colugos are part of the order Dermoptera or “skinwings”, which includes only one other existing family of animals. Ironically, though, flying lemurs are neither lemurs nor true-fliers! They use a gliding membrane, aka “patagium”, that stretches from the side of its neck to the tips of its fingers and toes that continues to the tip of the tail. Colugos are made for an arboreal lifestyle and are pathetically helpless if on the ground. They have limbs of equal length with very durable claws to help them anchor onto trees, but because of their wings, how do they climb?
Due to being rather oafish climbers, they actually hop up trees, but then once at the branch they need to be, they can soar for distances up to 230 ft! When they are not flying, which usually occurs during the day, they remain tucked in tree trunk holes or snuggled/hanging against a trees using their patagium as a blanket.
The patagium is not only a tool of flight and “fleece”, but it also can serve as a portable cradle for lactating mothers with unweaned young. Like marsupials, colugos are born in an undeveloped state and need to be carried on the mother’s belly while she glides. She still is able to soar despite using a portion of her patagium for her membranous yet warm cradle.
So far we’ve compared colugos to lemurs, creatures of flight, and marsupials, but they are similar to yet another group of animals: ruminants, a cud-chewing even-toed hoofed animal. Like ruminants, colugos have a gap in the front of their upper jaw. The upper incisors are all located to the side of the mouth. The second upper incisor has two roots, which is a unique feature of all mammals. What is unique about colugos are their two pairs of lower incisors: they form 20 comblike spikes, which are thought to facilitate scraping sap from trees and grooming fur.
These mainly nocturnal little herbivores have a specialized stomach that has an elongated pyloric region that allows it to better ferment and digest leaves, shoots, buds, and flowers. They also occasionally eat fruits and sap. Colugos also obtain most of their water from their food and by licking wet leaves!
Colugos live in a beautiful but compromising environment: the rainforests of Southeast Asia. As forests become more and more threatened due to logging and deforestation for agricultural purposes, the fewer homes they have to live in. The Malayan colugo (ranging Malaya, Thailand, Tenasserium, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, and other nearby islands) is killed by farmers who find it a pest on coconut plantations, as the Malayan colugo finds the coconut flower buds delicious! The Philippine colugo is considered a delicacy and its soft furs a luxury. To make matters worse, it is believed that the Philippine Eagle, the largest eagle in the world and one of the most critically endangered species, has a diet consisting up to 90% colugo! With fewer colugos due to deforestation, there may be a direct correlation to this and the drop in Philippine eagles.