SQUIRRELS THAT FLY?

Yes , the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel that has vernacular names like Udan Pankhi , Kali Minki , Ravi Devi , Rawaii Devi ,  Mor Chitri , Billari , Hulravan,  Khank Bula , Rawai ,  Ravaya ,  Pankha ,  khank Balla and Udani Minki is a widely distributed species in India.

It has its habitat mainly in Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary , Pratapgarh and Phulwari Ki Nal Wildlife Sanctuary . It has occurence also in different patches in Udaipur , Chittorgarh , Pratapgarh , Dungarpur and Banswara districts.

Flying Squirrels are in fact not capable of flight like birds or bats. But they glide between trees by taking a jump from one tree to another and glide on air currents by spreading their skin flap and extending the wing tip by means of a cartilage at the wrist . The wing tips are held upwards to rest of the wing and form an airfoil . The aerodynamics of gliding movements like direction and speed in midair are controlled by adjusting the wing tips to various angles . Gliding is always done from one tree top to lower heights . The tail acts as steering and maintains balance throughout the motion. The fluffy tail also acts as an adjust airfoil  and an air brake before landing on the target tree trunk . A flying squirrel also creates a large angle while approaching the target tree,  decreasing its velocity allowing all four limbs to absorb the impact of the landing surface . Mostly short distances are preferred and not long ones because the latter require broader landing platforms that are not available in dense forests . Generally , the horizontal distance in gliding ranges between 20 to 30 metres . Gliding also helps in energy conservation in movements . Lacking the adaption for quadrapedal locomotion , they mainly rely on their gliding abilities for movement in the home range.

The Indian Giant Flying Squirrel is one of the largest flying squirrels in the world . Its average head – body length goes up to 40cm while the tail is a bit longer , 50 cm or more thereby making the total length upto one metre . Body weight of adult can go up to 1.65 kilogram.

February to March and July to August are mating seasons . Each breeding cycle lasts for two weeks . The female mates with 3 to 5 males and after successful conception produces at least one offspring per season . The tree hole is occupied solely by mother and its offspring is lined with fur, leaves and moss. The lifespan is up to six years in the wild.

The nocturnal species is frequently found in forest edges and can inhabit plantations as well . It occupies tree canopies , natural cavities and holes of large and old trees . Being nocturnal they are most active after dusk when they come out for foraging . The gliding flights are done mostly between dusk and midnight.

Their main food is leaf material ,  bark ,  flower buds ,  lichens ,  seeds etc. It also feeds on termites found

on trees. It  has larger eyes  in proportion to its body as also hearing , touch and smelling abilities as a means of communications and perception. Communication is done by sounds , by visual and chemical cues  for social calls ,  mating ,  territory marking and in alarming situations . It produces high pitched ‘cheep’  sound to communicate with each other that can be heard mostly during a few hours after sunset.

It plays an important ecological role by dispersing seeds of the the feed plants hand pollination of flowers while feeding upon them. Having peculiar habitat requirements ,  it is a good indicator of the health of the forest , plant diversity , canopy cover and micro – climate conditions. Through its feeding style it spreads a lot of left over plant material on the ground that is consumed by a number of terrestoral organisms . The fallen material decomposes and further adds to the natural nutrient and bio geochemical cycling process .

The species is predated upon by a number of animals like wildcats , rodents , snakes , owls etc. Habitat degradation and fragmentation ,  deforestation , fires , agricultural encroachment , construction of roads etc.  are some of the general threats to the species.

In Phulwari Ki Nal , this species is quite safe. The tribals do not kill it as it has no meat value while in return they face no harm from it .

A rare gift of nature this squirrel makes the wildlife sanctuaries of Mewar more attractive for the visitors , specially foreign tourists.

 

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