Colugos: Dermoptera

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COLUGOS: Dermoptera

MALAYAN COLUGO (Cynocephalus variegatus): SPECIES ACCOUNT


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.


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.


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.


The national bird of the Philippines has a taste for colugos. The Philippine eagle is one of the world's rarest birds with only about 200 live birds. At one time it was thought this bird's favorite food was a monkey. But a report in one area of the Philippines found that 90 percent of the eagle's diet consists of colugos. The eagle can swoop down and catch the colugo in the air while it leaps from tree to tree.

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.


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, coconut, 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.

MALAYAN COLUGO (Cynocephalus variegatus): SPECIES ACCOUNT

Physical characteristics: Malayan colugos are also called Malayan flying lemurs. They resemble lemurs with their dog-like shaped heads. Malayan colugos have large eyes, long limbs, and sharp claws. Their fur is gray or brown with white spots along the back. Their head and body length is about 15 inches (38 centimeters), and they weigh approximately 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms). The fur of male colugos is generally brown to red-brown with white spots, and in females it is grayish brown with white spots. The underside of the animal is a lighter orange-yellow to orange color.

Geographic range: Malayan colugos are found in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Borneo, and some nearby islands.

Habitat: Malayan colugos live in tropical forests and woodlands.

Diet: Malayan colugos are herbivores, eating leaves, buds, pods, flowers, and fruit.

Behavior and reproduction: Malayan colugos are independent and solitary animals. They are nocturnal, resting during the day in tree hollows, against trees, or while clinging to branches. Individual animals have their own feeding area, or even tree, and follow a pattern of returning to the same area every evening.

Malayan colugos generally have one offspring per birthing period. Gestation period is about sixty days. When the offspring is born it is poorly developed, like a marsupial. It stays on the female's belly, enclosed in the patagium, folded into a pouch, until it is weaned at about six months.

Malayan colugos and people: Destruction of the rainforest for timber and agriculture has caused the loss of habitat for Malayan colugos. They are also hunted for their fur and meat.

Conservation status: Malayan colugos are not listed as a threatened species. ∎



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Colugos: Dermoptera

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