1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Flying-squirrel

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Britannica Flying-squirrel Pigmy African Flying-Squirrel.png
Pigmy African Flying-Squirrel
(Idiurus zenkeri).

FLYING-SQUIRREL, properly the name of such members of the squirrel-group of rodent mammals as have a parachute-like expansion of the skin of the flanks, with attachments to the limbs, by means of which they are able to take long flying-leaps from tree to tree. The parachute is supported by a cartilage attached to the wrist or carpus; in addition to the lateral membrane, there is a narrow one from the cheek along the front of each shoulder to the wrist, and in the larger species a third (interfemoral) connecting the hind-limbs with the base of the long tail. Of the two widely distributed genera, Pteromys includes the larger and Sciuropterus the smaller species. The two differ in certain details of dentition, and in the greater development in the former of the parachute, especially the interfemoral portion, which in the latter is almost absent. In Pteromys the tail is cylindrical and comparatively thin, while in Sciuropterus it is broad, flat and laterally expanded, so as to compensate for the absence of the interfemoral membrane by acting as a supplementary parachute.

In general appearance flying-squirrels resemble ordinary squirrels, although they are even more beautifully coloured. Their habits, food, &c., are also very similar to those of the true squirrels, except that they are more nocturnal, and are therefore less often seen. The Indian flying-squirrel (P. oral) leaps with its parachute extended from the higher branches of a tree, and descends first directly and then more and more obliquely, until the flight, gradually becoming slower, assumes a horizontal direction, and finally terminates in an ascent to the branch or trunk of the tree to which it was directed. The presence of these rodents at night is made known by their screaming cries. Sciuropterus is represented by S. volucella in eastern Europe and northern Asia, and by a second species in North America, but the other species of this genus and all those of Pteromys are Indo-Malayan. A third genus, Eupetaurus, typified by a very large, long-haired, dark-grey species from the mountains to the north-west of Kashmir (Eu. cinereus), differs from all other members of the squirrel-family by its tall-crowned molar teeth. It has a total length of 37 in., of which 22 are taken up by the tail.

In Africa the name of flying-squirrel is applied to the members of a very different family of rodents, the Anomaluridae, which are provided with a parachute. Since, however, this parachute is absent in some members of the family, the most distinctive character is the presence of a double row of spiny scales on the under surface of the tail, which apparently aid in climbing. The flying species are also distinguished from ordinary flying-squirrels by the circumstance that the additional bone serving for the support of the fore part of the flying-membrane rises from the elbow-joint instead of from the wrist. The family is represented by two flying genera, Anomalurus and Idiurus; the latter containing only one very minute species (shown in the cut) characterized by its small ears and elongated tail. Most of the species are West African. In habits these rodents appear to be very similar to the true flying-squirrels. The species without a parachute constitutes the genus Zenkerella, and looks very like an ordinary squirrel (see Rodentia).

In Australia and Papua the name flying-squirrel is applied to such marsupials as are provided with parachutes; animals which naturalists prefer to designate flying-phalangers (see Marsupialia). (R.L.*)