A Malayan Colugo and Her Baby in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore (2016)

This Malayan colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) carrying a baby was observed on November 25th 2016 in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore. The observation has been registered to iNaturalist database. No Malayan colugos have been successfully bred in captivity. Oldest known captive individual lived 17.5 years.

Malayan colugos belong to the “skinwing” mammal order called Dermopterans. They are also known as Sunda flying lemurs. They are strictly arboreal, spending their time in the treetops of tropical rainforests entirely. The name “flying” is a misleading term since these animals glide with the help of a membraneous skin called patagium when the extremities including the tail are extended. Patagium is fully furred and extend with the help of an extensor muscle. Colugo patagium is more extensive than in other gliding mammals, whose gliding surface is only stretched between the limbs, with fingers, toes, and tail left free. These animals also have webbed feet. Patagium starts from the neck and extends along the limbs to the tips of the fingers, toes, and tail. They can glide as far away as 100 meters especially when escaping from a predator. Their skeletons are thinner and more elongated than that of a squirrel. This reduces their weight while increasing their surface area. They are nocturnal. Thus, their huge eyes are adapted for night vision providing excellent depth perception. During the day they are very inactive.

Malayan colugos can mate throughout the year. After a gestation period of about 60 days, females give birth to a single offspring. Twins may born on rare occasions. The offspring is born underdeveloped and weighs around 35 grams. Weaning occurs at six months of age. At about three years old they become adults. The mother can mate again shortly after giving birth. A female can be pregnant while still nursing.

Malayan colugo are herbivores. They feed on soft plant parts such as fruits, flowers, buds, young leaves, nectar, and sap. Their distinctly comb-shaped lower incisors are thought to be used to scrape up sap from trees or to strain fruits and flowers. Because of their plant-centric life, like many vertebrate herbivores they may be important seed dispersers and pollinators.

Colugos occur in Burma, Indochina and Southern Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and throughout Borneo.

Fossils of the first “winged” mammals come from China dating back to 160 million years ago. These fossils belonging to extinct mammal groups clearly show that some of the ancestral mammals evolved to glide between trees. Therefore, mammals were quite diverse even during the age of dinosaurs including adaptations to climb trees, roost on branches and glide during the Jurassic. Gliding from tree to tree may have allowed more efficient and safe foraging. There appears to have been an evolutionary radiation of mammalian life styles that occurred deep in the Jurassic. Modern gliding mammals include the flying squirrels in North America and Asia; the scaly-tailed rodent gliders of Africa; the marsupial sugar gliders of Australia; and the colugos of Southeast Asia.

Molecular genetic and genomic analyses revealed that colugos are the most recent non-primate group to branch off from our lineage. This split happened some 86 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.



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