Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Close Encounter with a Travancore Flying Squirrel


Late last evening, after the sun had set, we were sitting outside, when out of the shadows a creature flew onto the trunk of a coconut tree. It then proceeded to scramble up the trunk into the mass of coconuts and frond stalks. All we could see in the darkness was a spooky mass moving upwards. In the time I managed to retrieve a torch, there was no sign of the mysterious animal.


Today however, as one of our employees (Thankan) was watering the grass beneath the coconut tree, there was a whooshing sound from above. On looking up, he spotted a crow swooping down to attack something. Then out of the tree fell this creature….and together with it (apparently in its mouth!) a small bat!


This employee of ours is from a tribal community that usually lives in forested areas. Before he came to work for us he lived off the forest, sometimes hunting and eating animals. Following his instincts he swung into action and caught hold of the animal even as it viciously lashed out with its huge incisors and claws. Having handled creatures like these he knew exactly how to hold it without being ripped apart! He then victoriously brought it for our inspection.


I`ve never seen one of these before, neither has my Dad in all his 70 years. The employee claimed it was called a “Paarayathan” ! To the best of my knowledge this would be a Travancore flying squirrel (Petinomys fuscocapillus).


Apparently, the Travancore Flying squirrel was thought to be extinct until 1989, when after a gap of 100 years, it was rediscovered! Now, however, it is not a threatened species anymore and is listed as a species of least concern.


On closer inspection, the animal did indeed have a “wing” –  a furry parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle, also called as the patagium. The squirrel is capable of gliding flight using this. The bushy tail also helps as an air brake and to stabilise the animal in flight.


The creature is nocturnal and flies at night as they fear the birds of prey that hunt during the day. Since it was still evening and the animal was vulnerable to attack from crows and other birds, we decided to cage it until dusk when we could release it and give it a better chance of survival.


The animal was anything but calm, and seemed ready to chomp of a finger with its incredibly long teeth, if it got a chance! Poor thing though, being in captivity would be the last thing it would have thought of as it started the day.


The animal feeds mostly on fruits and nuts but is known to eat insects, slugs, snails and plants etc. However, I found it hard to believe that it was trying to eat a bat though! I checked out the area where it had fallen off the tree but found no sign of the bat. All I have to go on is the words of the employee.


Flying squirrels are thought to be the ancestral line from which modern squirrels have descended. Having never seen one before it was good to finally see it so close, although I wish it was in its natural habitat when that had occurred.


I`m not sure if this squirrel is naturally resident among our rubber plantations or if it had lost its way from the nearby forests. Whatever the case, I hope this beautiful animal flourishes , and I hope there are lots more of them out there in the wild, prowling in the darkness and going about its business (which probably includes eating bats!)


Having seen this creature, and reminiscing old stories about creatures of the night, told by the old people when we were kids, I realise that there are so many nocturnal creatures that are out there that we have never laid eyes on or probably will never see.

When it was finally dusk, we released the squirrel and it thankfully scampered off onto a jackfruit tree, probably never to be seen again!


P.S: here is a video of combined clips showing the squirrel from capture to release. (email and RSS feed readers may not display the video, please click through to the blog to watch)


  1. Wow!, look at that ferocious teeth!.

  2. Wow, that's a great capture! I've heard that flying squirells are rare in India... you're really lucky to have spotted one!

  3. "Now, however, it is not a threatened species anymore and is listed as a species of least concern."

    That's really good news.


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