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Flying Lemur or Colugo: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

The Flying Lemur, also known as the Colugo, is a fascinating creature that captivates the imagination of those who learn about it. Despite its common name, the Flying Lemur is neither a lemur nor does it truly fly. Instead, it glides through the forests of Southeast Asia with a grace and efficiency that is unmatched in the animal kingdom.

This remarkable mammal has evolved unique adaptations that allow it to soar from tree to tree, making it an integral part of the forest ecosystem. In this article, we’ll explore the intriguing world of the Flying Lemur, from its classification and physical characteristics to its habitat, diet, and conservation status.

Join us as we delve into the life of this extraordinary animal and uncover the secrets of its aerial prowess.

The Flying Lemur or Colugo at a Glance


Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Genus:Cynocephalus / Galeopterus
Species:Cynocephalus volans / Galeopterus variegatus

Essential Information

Average Size:Head to Body: 33-42 cm (13-16.5 inches), Tail: 18-27 cm (7-10.6 inches)
Average Weight:0.9-1.3 kg (2-2.9 lbs)
Average Lifespan:Up to 10-15 years in the wild
Geographical Range:Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore
Conservation Status:Least Concern for both the Philippine and the Sunda Flying Lemurs (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The terms “Colugo” and “Flying Lemur” refer to two distinct species within the order Dermoptera: the Philippine Flying Lemur (Cynocephalus volans) and the Sunda Flying Lemur (Galeopterus variegatus). These species are the only members of their order, highlighting their unique evolutionary path.

  • Philippine Flying Lemur (Cynocephalus volans): Found primarily in the Philippines, this species prefers primary forests but can also be found in secondary forests and plantations. It has a more limited range compared to its cousin and is known for its slightly larger size.
  • Sunda Flying Lemur (Galeopterus variegatus): This species has a broader range across Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brunei. It is more variable in color and pattern, with several distinct morphotypes that some researchers suggest may represent subspecies.

Despite their common name, there are notable differences between the two species, including variations in size, coloration, and geographical distribution. However, both share the remarkable gliding membrane, or patagium, that extends between their limbs and tail, enabling their signature glide.

Sunda Flying Lemur
Sunda Flying Lemur


Colugos, or flying lemurs, possess a captivating physical appearance that is perfectly adapted to their arboreal and gliding lifestyle. They have a small head with large, forward-facing eyes that provide excellent binocular vision, essential for navigating through the forest canopy.

The most distinctive feature of colugos is their patagium, an extensive membrane that stretches from the neck to the fingertips, toes, and tail, enabling them to glide over distances of up to 70 meters (230 feet) between trees. Their fur color varies from grey to reddish-brown, often with a mottled or patchy pattern that camouflages them against the tree bark.

Adult colugos typically measure between 33 to 42 cm (13 to 16.5 inches) in head-to-body length, with a tail length of 18 to 27 cm (7 to 10.6 inches). They weigh between 0.9 to 1.3 kg (2 to 2.9 lbs), with slight variations between species and individuals. Sexual dimorphism is minimal in colugos, making it challenging to distinguish males from females based solely on size or coloration.

Habitat and Distribution

Colugos are endemic to Southeast Asia, with their habitat spanning across various countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. They are strictly arboreal, spending most of their lives in the trees of tropical rainforests, gardens, and plantations.

Their presence is a good indicator of forest health and biodiversity. The Sunda flying lemur is more widely distributed across the mainland and several islands, whereas the Philippine flying lemur is found primarily in the Philippines.

These animals prefer dense, mature forests with a continuous canopy, which facilitates their gliding method of locomotion. They can be found from sea level up to elevations where their preferred habitat exists, avoiding open areas where the forest canopy is interrupted.

Philippine flying lemur
Philippine Flying Lemur


Flying lemurs are primarily nocturnal, spending the daylight hours resting in tree hollows or clinging to tree trunks and branches with their powerful limbs and sharp claws. At night, they become more active, moving through the canopy in search of food. Their gliding ability is not only a mode of transportation but also a means of escape from predators.

Socially, colugos are solitary animals, with adults only coming together for mating. They maintain territories that they defend against others of the same sex. Despite their solitary nature, they are known to share sleeping sites during the day, possibly to conserve body heat or as a form of social interaction.

Communication among flying lemurs is not well understood, but they are known to produce a range of vocalizations, including hisses and clicks. These sounds are believed to be used for communication between mothers and their offspring, as well as between potential mates. Physical communication is also evident through scent marking, which plays a role in territory establishment and maintenance.

The behavior of colugos emphasizes their adaptation to a life spent in the trees. Their nocturnal habits help them avoid daytime predators, while their solitary nature minimizes competition for the limited food resources available in their canopy habitat.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Colugos, or flying lemurs, are strict herbivores, with a diet that primarily consists of leaves, supplemented by flowers, shoots, and occasionally fruits. Their preference for young, tender leaves, which are easier to digest and more nutritious, highlights their specialized feeding habits.

Colugos have a large, complex stomach that helps in breaking down cellulose, enabling them to extract the maximum amount of nutrients from their leafy diet. This adaptation is crucial for their survival in the forest canopy, where they spend the majority of their time.

The feeding behavior of colugos involves meticulous selection of food sources. They are known to glide from tree to tree in search of suitable foliage, demonstrating a preference for certain tree species over others. This selective feeding ensures that they consume a diet rich in essential nutrients while avoiding leaves with high levels of toxins or indigestible materials.


In their natural habitat, colugos face several predators, including birds of prey such as eagles and large owls, which can snatch them from the trees during their nocturnal activities.

Other potential predators include arboreal snakes and various carnivorous mammals that can climb trees, such as civets and leopards. The colugo’s cryptic coloration and ability to remain motionless against tree bark serve as their primary defense mechanisms, camouflaging them from the eyes of predators.

The young colugos are particularly vulnerable to predation due to their dependence on their mothers and their limited mobility. Mothers carry their offspring on their belly, using the patagium to wrap and protect them during gliding and resting, reducing the risk of predation.

Sunda Flying Lemur
Sunda Flying Lemur in Singapore

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Colugos have a relatively slow reproductive rate, with females typically giving birth to only one offspring at a time, although twins have been reported on rare occasions. The gestation period is about 60 days, after which the female gives birth to a small, undeveloped young.

Unlike many other mammals, colugo infants are born in an extremely altricial state, meaning they are highly underdeveloped and require considerable maternal care.

After birth, the infant clings to the mother’s belly and is enveloped within her patagium, which acts as a protective pouch, allowing the mother to carry her offspring as she glides between trees.

This close maternal bond ensures the infant’s safety and warmth, and provides it with constant access to milk. The young colugo remains dependent on its mother for six months or more, during which it learns to forage and glide.

The life cycle of colugos is characterized by slow growth and maturation. They reach sexual maturity at about 2 to 3 years of age, with a lifespan that can extend up to 10-15 years in the wild.

This slow reproductive rate, combined with their specific habitat requirements, makes colugos vulnerable to threats that reduce their habitat or disrupt their breeding patterns.

Conservation and Threats

Both species of colugo—the Philippine Flying Lemur (Cynocephalus volans) and the Sunda Flying Lemur (Galeopterus variegatus)—are classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN Red List.

However, this status belies the nuanced reality of their conservation status. While the population of the Philippine species remains stable, the Sunda species is experiencing a population decline, primarily due to habitat destruction and fragmentation.

The primary threats facing colugos include deforestation for agricultural expansion, logging, and urban development, which reduce their natural habitat. Additionally, in some areas, they are hunted for food and traditional medicine, although this is less common.

Conservation efforts for colugos focus on habitat preservation and the establishment of protected areas that encompass their natural ranges. Environmental education and community-based conservation programs are also crucial to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts and promote coexistence.

Fun Facts

  1. Gliding Marvels: Colugos are among the best gliders in the animal kingdom, capable of gliding for over 100 meters (328 feet) between trees without losing much altitude, thanks to their large patagium.
  2. Not Actually Lemurs: Despite their name, colugos are not related to lemurs, which are primates found in Madagascar. The term “flying lemur” is a misnomer, as they neither fly nor are they lemurs.
  3. Ancient Lineage: Colugos are considered “living fossils,” belonging to one of the oldest mammalian lineages, which has remained relatively unchanged for millions of years.
  4. Unique Family: They are the sole members of their order, Dermoptera, making them unique in the mammalian world. This exclusivity highlights their unique evolutionary path.
  5. Motherly Care: Colugo mothers are remarkably attentive, carrying their offspring with them everywhere, enveloped in their patagium, until they are old enough to glide on their own.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do colugos eat?

Colugos are herbivores that primarily feed on leaves, along with flowers, shoots, and occasionally fruits, selecting young and tender vegetation that is easier to digest.

How do colugos glide?

Colugos glide using a large skin membrane called a patagium, which stretches from their neck to the tips of their limbs and tail, allowing them to navigate through the air between trees.

Are colugos endangered?

Both species of colugo are classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. However, the Sunda Flying Lemur’s population is decreasing, highlighting the need for ongoing conservation efforts.

Can colugos fly like bats?

No, colugos cannot fly like bats. They glide from higher to lower points, using their patagium to control their direction and speed.

How do colugos care for their young?

Colugo mothers carry their young attached to their belly, enveloped within the patagium, providing warmth, protection, and mobility. This close maternal care continues until the young are capable of independent gliding.

What’s being done to conserve colugos?

Conservation efforts include habitat protection, establishment of protected areas, and environmental education to promote awareness and reduce human-wildlife conflict. These initiatives aim to preserve the natural habitats of colugos and ensure their survival for future generations.

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