Thursday, May 30

The Most Unusual Looking Creatures in the World

Several people have recently directed my attention to a set of images floating around the internet, described as "animals you didn't know existed." Its a nice set, but I did know about most of them, even things like the markhor, babirusa, and the dhole (which I only recently discovered). I wrote about the snub-nosed monkey previously; the main reason no one knows about it is because it was only discovered 2.5 years ago.

However, there were plenty of animals I did not recognize. The arthropods on the list are bizarre and were previously unknown to me. Same goes for dolphins on the list. That Irrawaddy fellow is quite a looker. Just what we all needed: a dolphin that appears as creepy as dolphins actually are.

Yet, the most striking animal among the bunch, for me, was the sunda colugo. I thought I'd seen every strange looking primate species there was.
I once spent a long night on Long Street with my colleague, Bellerica. We ended up at Neighborhood, probably my favorite low-key drinking establishment in Cape Town. It was her first time there, and I knew she'd be taken by the collection of old animal books published by Life in (I think) the 60's.

She recognized just about every creatures in those books, or at very least all of the primates. Which was certainly more than I knew. I found myself at a considerable disadvantage, with minimal zoological foundations to rely on. It was an informative experience for me, and she certainly enjoyed the old books and the photos within.

The sunda colugo is often known as the sunda flying lemur, even though it isn't a real lemur. It actually isn't even a real primate, which might explain why I've never heard of them before. They are from the order Dermaptera, which sits alongside order Primates within the mirorder Primatomorpha. Even tarsiers, lemurs, and lorises are primates, even if they're prosimians, and thus not monkeys.

Sunda colugos aren't called "flying lemurs" for nothing. They can glide like flying squirrels, using flaps of skin stretched between their arms and legs. They can soar a hundred meters and lose only ten meters of altitude, turning in the air to control their course all the while. Like many creatures who glide, they spend the majority of their time in the forest canopy, and like many other creatures who live in the canopy, they subsist on leaves, and supplement with other nutritious plant materials they come across.

I am reminded of gibbons, the lesser apes, who also live in this part of the world and spend their lives among the treetops. Gibbons aren't doing very well for themselves these days; most species are endangered, many critically so. Fortunately, colugos have proved adaptable. Their population is not as strong as it has been, but they are doing fine.

1 comment:

  1. I was also impressed by the colugo--hadn't realized there was another mammal out there--let alone one so interesting looking and almost a primate--that nearly flew (I've been led to regard flying squirrels as in the first stages of adaptation toward self-powered flight, not so different from the way we used to think of archaeopteryx, though we now believe the image of them as gliders to be inaccurate).