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Which mammals can fly?

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key point

  • Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly.
  • Other mammals, such as sugar gliders and flying squirrels, are able to glide from place to place thanks to a membrane called patagium.
  • To soar is to glide effortlessly for long periods of time.

Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly. True flight is achieved through the movement of the wings, for which the bat's front legs and fingers have evolved tough wings. Other anatomical adaptations also had to occur for bats to actually fly, such as having a much larger heart than similarly sized mammals. Bats are mammals because they have fur, are warm-blooded, and feed their babies with milk.

Other mammals, such as sugar gliders and flying squirrels, are able to glide from place to place thanks to a membrane called patagium. Wing bones attach to their limbs and act as a sort of parachute. Gliding can be gravity or soaring. Mammals that "fly" typically glide under the force of gravity, which means they launch themselves where they want to go and let the wind help them get there.

To soar is to glide effortlessly for long periods of time. It's unusual for mammals to actually soar because they need to find heat in the air that rises faster than they glide down. Some gliders are not only mammals but also marsupials, meaning their babies are born almost embryonic and spend most of their time developing in their mother's pouch. Here are some mammals that fly or fly:

8. Flying Squirrel

Which mammal can fly 1
Although technically it is gliding rather than flying, the flying squirrel can adjust its speed and position.

©Laura Fiorillo/Shutterstock.com

There are about 50 species of these small gliding mammals (or "flying mammals") that can glide up to 300 feet. Flying squirrels are particularly good at gliding, and they can adjust their speed and position. This is mainly due to their protruding wrists. These protrusions are made of cartilage and form a wingtip-like shape. No other gliding mammal has them.

Northern and southern flying squirrels look a lot like sugar gliders, but are not related to them. Northern flying squirrels are nearly 11 to 13.5 inches long, with their tails accounting for 80 percent of their body length. It weighs 2.6 to 4.9 ounces and has glossy gray and brown fur. Southern flying squirrels are smaller. The flying squirrels mate in the spring and give birth to one to six young, all naked and helpless at birth.

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The Japanese giant flying squirrel can reach a length of 23 inches and weigh nearly 3 pounds. Not only is it the largest flying squirrel, it is the largest flying squirrel overall, with a glide of up to 525 feet, although the average is about 164 feet. Japanese giant flying squirrels are herbivorous and nocturnal.

Flying squirrels are omnivores, eating anything from fruits, flowers, seeds, spiders, snails, mushrooms, insects, and bird eggs. When the flying squirrel is exposed to ultraviolet light, it turns pink. They are native to North and Central America, Asia and Northern Europe.

#7. feather tail glider

This native Australian marsupial is the world's smallest gliding mammal.

© Doug Beckers/Creative Commons – Licensed

This marsupial is named for its feathery tail. Found in Australia, at just 2.6 to 3.1 inches long, it's the smallest gliding mammal on Earth. It has soft fur that is gray above and white below, and has large, forward-facing eyes and round ears. Because it primarily eats pollen and nectar, this glider has an unusually long tongue filled with papillae. The tail is at least as long as the body. Unlike some other Australian gliders, feather-tailed gliders are omnivorous, eating arthropods and protecting some insect larvae and the hardened honeydew mulch of plant material.

Feathered gliders are nocturnal and so agile they can climb up glass windows. They live about five years and can glide from tree to tree about 92 feet.

#6. Anomalies

Anomalous animals, also known as scale-tailed flying squirrels, have been found in Africa. There are 3 genera and 7 species. Although they are called flying squirrels, they are not related to flying squirrels of the family Flying Squirrel . They get their name from the interesting row of raised and pointy scales on the underside of the base of their tail. These scales may have helped the anomalous animal grasp the branches.

Like many gliding animals, anomalous animals are nocturnal, sleeping in groups in tree hollows during the day. Although they primarily eat plant material such as flowers, leaves, and fruit, they also eat insects. Unlike colugos and gliders, their babies are precocious and born with fur and open eyes. Long-eared flying squirrels are a little over 8 inches long and weigh 0.88 to 1.23 ounces, while pygmy flying squirrels are only 2.5 to nearly 3 inches long.

#5. Colugo

The tree-dwelling Colugo can move up to 230 feet between trees without losing much height.

©Joshua Davenport/Shutterstock.com

These gliding mammals are found in Southeast Asia and consist of two species. They are the Philippine flying lemur and the Sunda flying lemur. They are nocturnal, arboreal animals that grow 14 to 16 inches long and weigh 2 to 4 pounds. They have elongated limbs and bodies, small heads, small ears, and webbed fingers and toes. Colugos are herbivores and have an interesting set of teeth, as their incisors resemble small combs and their second upper incisors have an extra root. This is not seen in any other mammal. Colugos can glide from tree to tree up to 490 feet.

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Colugos are not marsupials like giant gliders or sugar gliders, but they are similar to marsupials in that their babies are born very underdeveloped and the mother wraps them in her patagium. This can be used almost as a pouch. The baby is protected in this quasi-nursery bag for about six months.

#4. big glider

Each side of the Greater Glider's body has membranes that extend between the elbows and ankles. These provide the Greater Glider with the ability to control its glide.

© Mark Gillow / CC BY 2.0 – License

Large gliders are members of the genus Petauroides , and like sugar gliders, they are also found in Australia. However, the two animals are not very closely related, although both were gliders and both were marsupials. There are three types, the northern glider is the smallest, the southern glider is the largest, and the central glider is in between. They are usually 15 to 17 inches long, with the largest species weighing up to 3.5 pounds. Large gliders have long, bushy tails that are longer than their bodies. They have soft, long, brown or taupe fur, and females are larger than males. They are solitary, nocturnal, and eat eucalyptus buds and leaves.

#3. sugar glider

Native to southeastern Australia, the Sugar Glider rises from a tree exposing its gliding membrane.

© Manop Boonpeng/Shutterstock.com

This gliding marsupial is one of several members of the genus Buffalo . It looks a bit like a squirrel, is 9 to 12 inches long and weighs 4 to 5 ounces. Males are slightly larger than females. It has a thick, soft coat, usually blue-gray on top, with a black stripe from nose to back, and a cream underpart. Male sugar gliders have four scent glands, which appear bare where the animal's head and thorax appear.

The sugar glider is nocturnal and has large forward-facing eyes that help it see when gliding from tree to tree. Named for its preference for sweets such as nectar. It is found in Australia and is sometimes kept as a pet. Sugar gliders can glide up to 165 feet.

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#2. miniature bat

Microbats use echolocation.

©Connie Kerr/Shutterstock.com

These are much smaller bats that often use echolocation to navigate the night sky and find prey. Most of these bats are between 1.6 and 6.3 inches long. They are mostly insectivores, but larger bats can also prey on larger animals like frogs or fish, and even smaller bats. Some species found in Central and South America do drink blood, and some eat nectar or fruit. Microbats have smaller eyes than giant bats, but their ears are proportionally larger and have a tragus, the small piece of flesh next to the ear opening. Among these bats are rat-tailed bats, wasp bats, pipistrelles, ghost-faced bats, and smoke bats.

#1. giant bat

Also known as the "flying fox," the Megabat has a keen sense of smell and keen eyesight.

©jekjob/Shutterstock.com

These are the largest bats on Earth and are often called flying foxes or fruit bats. There are about 60 species of these bats, which are found in South and Southeast Asia, East Africa and Oceania. Unlike smaller bats, they do not echolocate, but have keen eyesight and a keen sense of smell. The great flying fox is the largest of these bats. Native to Southeast Asia, despite its scientific name Pteropus vampyrus , it is a herbivore. It can weigh more than 2 pounds and has a wingspan of nearly 5 feet. These powerful wings allow mammals to fly up to 31 miles in search of food. An even bigger bat is the gigantic Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, whose wings spread to an impressive 5 feet 7 inches.

Other giant bats include the dog-faced fruit bat, bare-backed fruit bat, Fijian monkey-faced bat, eastern tube-nosed bat, and hammer-headed bat.

summarize

While bats are the only mammals that can truly fly, there are several other mammals that glide so well that they appear to fly. Some of these species are also marsupials. The only marsupial possum living in the United States. However, they definitely cannot fly, or even glide. These are mammals that are able to fly or glide.

rank animal
1. giant bat
2. miniature bat
3. sugar glider
4. big glider
5. Colugo
6. Anomalies
7. feather tail glider
8. flying bat

next

  • Are Marsupials Mammals Do you want to learn more about marsupials? Check out this article,
  • Sugar Glider These guys are often sold as pets. Are they right for you?
  • 10 Unbelievable Facts About Flying Squirrels The idea of flying squirrels may sound ridiculous, but they are very real and very funny. Learn more about them here.

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sugar glider
sugar glider

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about the author


Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York where she lives with three dogs, four donkeys, a mule and a cat. She holds a BA in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching regenerative farming practices to nearby farmers.

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