May 04, 2020 I Paul Seaburn

The Mysterious Flying Monkeys of Southeast Asia

The list of alleged flying cryptids is small – Mothman, the Jersey Devil, flying gargoyles, pterosaurs that escaped extinction and giant birds, like the Thunderbird of North America, the Poukai of New Zealand and the Ulama of Sri Lanka. A flying humanoid is one of the holy grails (with Bigfoot) of cryptozoology. A video popped up recently of a strange creature that looked like a monkey with bat-wings – not quite a chimpish Flying Monkey of Wizard of Oz fame, but definitely monkey-like. (Note: I won’t link to it because it shows terrible mistreatment of the creature.) Fortunately, some of the commenters were able to identify the winged creature, introducing this writer for the first time to the Colugo – better known as the Flying Lemur.

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Flying lemur at rest

Colugos are a rare creature – the only members of the family Cynocephalidae and order Dermoptera are the Malayan flying lemur and the Philippine flying lemur, which answers your question of the only two areas of the world where they can be found in rainforests flying from tree to tree. Yes, I see the hands waving. “Flying” is one of the many misnomers we’ll encounter as we look at the flying lemur. It’s actually a glider with a giant flap of skin connecting its arms, legs and tail – more along the lines of a flying squirrel than a bat. However, it’s not a rodent or a bat … yes, you’ve probably figured out that it’s not a lemur either. Lemurs are at the smaller end of the primate family and it and the colugo share some characteristics – nocturnal, live primarily in trees, excellent night vision. (Pictures and a video here.)

However, closer biological analysis finds unusual traits that make them a distinct family from primates. There’s the gliding – no other primate-like creature can glide between trees as much as 50 meters (490 feet) apart. They also lack opposing thumbs – all five fingers are the same. Perhaps most interesting – although they are placental, colugo babies are born undeveloped like marsupials and cling to their mother’s belly inside a semi-pouch for up to six months. And even after they’re out of the pouch, the mothers still fly with their babies hanging on.

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Find the baby

OK, a nocturnal flying primate sounds like a good candidate for being mistaken for a Mothman or a flying monkey, right? Unfortunately, the last similarity to the lemur knocks them out of mistaken flying humanoid contention – their top size is 35 to 40 cm (14 to 16 in) long and 1 to 2 kg (2.2 to 4.4 lb) in weight. Not a flying humanoid, not a flyer, not a lemur, not a cryptid – although definitely on the rarely-seen and vulnerable list due to eagles, habitat destruction and humans who hunt them for fur and – you guessed it – meat.

One more strange trait of this strange creature – its feces move. Wired reports that collections of colugo crap have been seen wiggling and squirming … like the pile of parasitic worms that inhabit the innards of the flying lemur. It’s believed that this is due to the extremely long digestive tract which the colugo needs to break down the tough trees and leaves it eats. Those long tracts are the perfect place for parasitic worms to hide, like passengers inside a jet (remember flying in jets?). All of this evolved starting 90 million years ago when colugo ancestors broke away from the primate family.

Not exactly a mini-Mothman but the Flying Lemur is still pretty cool.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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