Petaurista leucogenysJapanese giant flying squirrel

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Geographic Range

Japanese giant flying squirrels are found in southern parts of Asia and Japan, including the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku in Japan. Many studies of this species have been carried out in Nara City, located in central Japan. (Ando and Shiraishi, 1993; Kawamichi, 1997a; Kawamichi, 1997b; Kawamichi, 1998; Stafford, et al., 2003)

Habitat

This species inhabits areas of forests, hills and mountains. Forests include tropical and temperate with a mixture of tree species, such as deciduous and coniferous trees. They often inhabit forested areas around shrines and temples. (Ando and Shiraishi, 1993; Kawamichi, 1997a; Kawamichi, 1997b; Kawamichi, 1998; Nowak, 1997)

  • Other Habitat Features
  • urban
  • Range elevation
    98 to 150 m
    321.52 to 492.13 ft

Physical Description

There are six species of giant flying squirrels, including the largest, Petaurista leucogenys. This species has long, soft fur ranging in color on its back from yellow-gray, brown, chestnut and black. The tail is usually longer than the body and is the color of the fur on the back. The ventral surface is yellow, buff, brown or white. A fur-covered membrane extends from the side of their body from the wrists to the ankles, which allows these squirrels to glide between trees. Flying squirrels generally have longer limbs than non-gliding squirrels. There are nine carpal bones in the wrist of this species, which has a special, long accessory styliform cartilage that supports the flying membrane while gliding. Japanese giant flying squirrels are the largest members of the family Sciuridae, weighing up to 1.3 kg. The skull is broad with distinct post-orbital processes and a short rostrum. The face is almost raccoon-like in color, with black bands around the eyes. Extending down from the ears on the side of the face are white bands of fur. The nose and lips are pink. (Kawamichi, 1997b; Nowak, 1997; Oshida, et al., 2000; Stafford, et al., 2003)

  • Range mass
    1,000 to 1,300 g
    to oz
  • Range length
    305 to 585 mm
    12.01 to 23.03 in

Reproduction

Mating behaviors are not well known for this species, but they are thought to be strictly monogamous, breeding and nesting with only one other mate. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004; Nowak, 1997)

Japanese giant flying squirrels have two reproductive seasons annually; one is in the winter (mid-November to mid-January) and the other is in the summer (mid-May to mid-June). Gestation lasts for approximately 74 days. Because members of this species invest a great deal of energy in parental care, females give birth to only one or two offspring. In addition, breeding occurs twice yearly, resulting in up to four offspring in one year. Young Japanese giant flying squirrels are able to leave their nests at 59 or more days of age and begin foraging independently at 80 days of age. The young are sexually mature around 21 months and become independent at 12-18 months. However, female young disperse from their natal territories before they reach sexual maturity.

Because there are two breeding seasons, males born in the summer reach sexual maturity faster than males born in the spring. Spermatogenesis ceases in most males from July to August and from December to March, which is between the two mating seasons. The size of the testes regresses during these time periods. (Kawamichi, 1997a; Kawamichi, 1997b; Kawamichi, 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Japanese giant flying squirrels breed twice annually.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in two seasons: winter (mid-November to mid-January) and summer (mid-May to mid-June).
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Range gestation period
    74 to 74 days
  • Range weaning age
    91 to 91 days
  • Range time to independence
    12 to 18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    21 to 22 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    21 to 22 months

It is not clear whether the male participates in raising young. Studies suggest that females allow their young to stay with them until they are sexually mature (1-1.5 years). After the young have emerged from their nest at 40 days, they begin following their mothers. Juveniles are able to glide a few days after their first emergence from their nests. Mothers return to their nests at night to feed the young. Whenever a juvenile falls from the nest, the mother returns them to the nest. The amount of care mothers invest in their offspring is believed to be associated with gliding, which takes coordination and muscle. (Ando and Shiraishi, 1985; Kawamichi, 1997b; Nowak, 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Information on the lifespan of this species was not found.

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    19.2 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Japanese giant flying squirrels are a nocturnal, strictly arboreal species. They almost never descend to the ground. They spend the daytime hours at rest in hollow trees and branches. At night these squirrels move among branches, gliding from tree to tree. In fact, their incredible gliding abilities allow them to utilize a variety of habitats. The fur-covered membrane that is connected from the forearms to the rear feet allows them to travel an average of 50 meters per glide. However, the longest recorded glide was 160.2 meters. These squirrels travel an average distance of 111-620 meters each night. Smaller glides are more advantageous for this species for two reasons. First, they are more efficient energetically, and second, they allow squirrels to visit more trees in search of food. Most species of flying squirrels are territorial, and the intensity of territoriality may increase during the breeding season. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004; Ando and Shiraishi, 1983; Ando and Shiraishi, 1993; Ando, et al., 1985a; Stafford, et al., 2003)

  • Range territory size
    .46 hectares to 5.16 hectares m^2

Home Range

Giant flying squirrels can have home ranges of up to 12 acres or 5 hectares. Japanese giant flying squirrels tend to have home ranges from 0.46 to 5.16 hectares. Adult females hold intra-sexual territories throughout the year. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004; Ando and Shiraishi, 1993; Nowak, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Despite having a strictly nocturnal lifestyle, this species relies heavily on sight, although hearing, touch, and olfaction are also undoubtedly important. Members of this family display a variety of social behaviors. Flying squirrels are vocal, having very loud, high-pitched calls that are almost bird-like in sound. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004)

Food Habits

Japanese giant flying squirrels have unique foraging behaviors that allow them to feed from the skinniest of branches. They are able to extend their bodies to reach distant branches without shifting the position of their hind feet. This behavior allows them to maneuver around branches in search of food. They use their forepaws to grab onto skinny branches that would otherwise be off limits. They eat a variety of food items: seeds, leaves, conifers, buds, fruits, flowers and woody plant parts. Availability of food determines diet choice; from March to May they mainly feed on buds, young leaves and flowers. In June through the month of October, they eat seeds, mature leaves and fruit. During the winter months they eat buds and cones. Their main diet consists of leaves during periods when other food is absent. Feeding usually begins 35 minutes after sunset. There are two feeding peaks during the night, but the second feeding peak is the most active. Body size, nocturnal feeding pattern, and home range size seem to have an impact on the foliage eating habits of this species. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004; Ando, et al., 1984; Ando, et al., 1985b; Funakoshi and Shiraishi, 1985; Kawamichi, 1997a; Nowak, 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

The main threat to Japanese giant flying squirrels is humans. (Nowak, 1997)

Ecosystem Roles

As with most squirrels, this species is a good seed disperser.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Species Used as Host
  • Information not found
Mutualist Species
  • Information not found
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Information not found

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Giant flying squirrels are hunted for food. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004; Nowak, 1997)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Squirrels living in highly populated areas are rarely noticed by humans. However, in some areas they are considered a pest by local farmers. ("Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae)", 2004)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Currently, the Japanese giant flying squirrel is not listed as endangered or threatened. However, there are two other species of giant flying squirrels that are endangered or threatened. (Kawamichi, 1998)

Contributors

Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Shanna Wheeler (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

2004. Squirrels and relatives I: Flying squirrels (Pteromyinae). Pp. 135-137 in D Kleiman, V Geist, M McDade, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, 2 Edition. Gale.

Ando, M., S. Shiraishi. 1985. Development of external characteristics and behavior of the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys. Science Bulletin of the Faculty of Agriculture Kyushu University, 39(4): 135-142.

Ando, M., S. Shiraishi. 1983. The nest and nest building behavior of the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys. Science Bulletin of the Faculty of Agriculture Kyushu University, 38(2-3): 59-70.

Ando, M., S. Shiraishi, T. Uchida. 1984. Field observations of the feeding behavior in the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys. Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture Kyushu University, 28(4): 161-176.

Ando, M., S. Shiraishi, T. Uchida. 1985. Food habits of the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys. Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture Kyushu University, 29(4): 189-202.

Ando, M., S. Shiraishi. 1993. Gliding flight in the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys. Journal of Mammalogy, 18(1): 19-32.

Ando, M., S. Shiraishi, T. Uchida. 1985. Feeding behaviour of three species of squirrels. Behaviour, 95(1-2): 76-86.

Funakoshi, K., S. Shiraishi. 1985. Feeding activities in the Japanese giant flying squirrel Petaurista leucogenys. Journal of the Mammalogical Society of Japan, 10(3): 149-158.

Kawamichi, T. 1998. Seasonal change in the testis size of the Japanese giant flying squirrel, Petaurista leucogenys. Mammal Study, 23: 79-82.

Kawamichi, T. 1997. Seasonal changes in the diet of Japanese giant flying squirrels in relation to reproduction. Journal of Mammalogy, 78(1): 204-212.

Kawamichi, T. 1997. The age of sexual maturity in Japanese giant flying squirrels, Petaurista leucogenys. Mammal Study, 22: 81-87.

Nowak, R. 1997. "Walker's Mammals of the World" (On-line). Giant Flying Squirrels. Accessed March 28, 2004 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/rodentia/rodentia.sciuridae.petaurista.html.

Oshida, T., N. Hachiya, M. Yoshida, N. Ohtaishi. 2000. Comparitive anatomical note on the origin of the long accesory styliform cartilage of the Japanese giant flying squirrel, Petaurista leucogenys. Mammal Study, 25: 35-39.

Stafford, B., R. Thorington, T. Kawamichi. 2003. Positional behavior of Japanese giant flying squirrels (Petaurista leucogenys). Journal of Mammalogy, 84(1): 263-271.