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Sumatran Flying Squirrel (Hylopetes winstoni)

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The Sumatran Flying Squirrel

The Sumatran Flying Squirrel (Hylopetes winstoni) is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), partially due to their isolated location and partially due to clearing of the forests where they make their homes. The Sumatran Flying Squirrel lives in what is known as the Sundaland biodiversity hotspot, which is home to 82 threatened and 13 critically endangered species. Unfortunately, little is known about this species in particular as not a lot of research has been done in their natural habitats.

The Sumatran Flying Squirrel is only found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, discovered in 1949 and only known by a single specimen. Flying squirrels usually live in hollows of trees, sometimes taking nests of other animals, and they are most often found in dense, forested areas. They are also nocturnal animals, spending the days holed up in their nests and coming out at night on a hunt for food. Unfortunately, there is no current estimate of how many of these animals are currently living in the wild.

Flying squirrels don’t “fly” in the traditional sense, rather they have membranes that run along their sides, attached to the wrists and ankles. They typically use these membranes to glide from upper branches of trees to the lower branches, although some have been seen to flap these membranes, often with an almost frenzied motion. It is not certain whether this actually gives any benefit, however. The Sumatran Flying Squirrel is classified as an Arrow-Tailed Flying Squirrel. Some larger flying squirrels have been recorded gliding extreme lengths, up to 1500 feet (450 meters). Reported glides for an arrow-tailed squirrel, however, have been recorded at up to 443 feet (135 meters).

In general, flying squirrels vary in size, ranging from 4-10 inches (110-330 mm) in length. They have a relatively long, flattened tail that can measure anywhere from 3-11 inches (80-292 mm) curves up at the tip, and helps them in controlling the glide. Unlike other kinds of flying squirrels, the Arrow-Tailed flying squirrels don’t have a membrane that attaches to the tail. They are covered with soft, thick fur that ranges in color from grayish-brown to black.

Flying squirrels are omnivorous, eating fruits, nuts, leaves, insects and, sometimes, small snakes. One species of flying squirrel is very fond of spiders, crickets, and locusts, and a squirrel in captivity caught, killed, and consumed a small snake that was placed in its cage. Unfortunately, little is known about the Sumatran Flying Squirrel’s preferred diet.

Arrow-tailed flying squirrels don’t seem to have a specific breeding season, but there does appear to be a triggering event as the females in a particular area tend to be pregnant at the same time. The gestational period is estimated to be about 40 days, and each litter can be between one and four young, but two is the average number of young born at one time. Because of the limited field research on this small animal, there is no reproductive information available that is specific to the species.

Further Information on the Sumatran Flying Squirrel:

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Flying Squirrel. Encarta Encyclopedia, © 2000.
Rodentia; Sciuridae; Hylopetes. Accessed on August 15, 2004 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/rodentia/rodentia.sciuridae.hylopetes.html.
ADW: Hylopetes Fimbriatus: Information. Accessed on August 15, 2004 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Hylopetes_fimbriatus.html.

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