Nepal’s Giant Flying Squirrels

With their preferred habitat being tall trees in temperate forests, spotted giant flying squirrels (Petaurista elegans) are commonly found at altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level in Nepal. In springtime they are sometimes observed at lower elevations, presumably due to a lack of food resources at higher elevations as the winter snow melts. These interesting little rodents are found throughout Nepal, as well as in areas to the east and southeast of the country’s borders.

As its unscientific name may suggest, the spotted giant flying squirrel has perfected the art of gliding between trees. It does this by jumping off a branch and extending its paws as far as it possibly can, thereby creating a parachute with the furry membrane that extends between its ankles and wrists. It is able to control its direction by using its tail as a rudder, as well as by adjusting the tautness of its membranes. In order to land gently at its chosen destination, the squirrel adjusts the angle of its membranes to enable it to glide upward just before landing, thereby reducing the speed at which it istraveling.

While the flying squirrel’s membranes give it the ability to fly, they limit its ability to climb efficiently. This is likely one of the reasons that flying squirrels are nocturnal, spending the daylight hours huddled in tree cavities and looking for food at night when they are less likely to succumb to predators, such as owls and civets. They enjoy a varied diet, consuming nuts, shoots, leaves, fruit, eggs, insects and larvae.

Roughly the size of a domestic cat, spotted giant flying squirrels weigh between 1,13 and 1.36 kilograms, with body length varying between 305 mm and 585 mm, and its brush-like tail being between 356 mm and 635 mm in length. The color variations of flying squirrels in different regions are quite extensive, and some experts are of the opinion that there are multiple subspecies. They vary in color from brown to black, with variation in spots down their backs and necks, with limbs and tails being brown black or orange. The IUCN conservation status of the spotted giant flying squirrel is of ‘least concern’ and visitors may very well see them when exploring the spectacular landscapes of Nepal.