Petaurista elegansspotted giant flying squirrel

Geographic Range

The range of Petaurista elegans extends from Nepal east and southeast across the Malay Peninsula, as far east as Vietnam. Their range also includes the islands of Sumatra, Java and Borneo, as well as a few smaller surrounding islands. (J. R. Ellerman and Morrison-Scott, 1966; Nowak, 1991; Wilson and Reeder, 1993)


Spotted giant flying squirrels, also known as lesser giant flying squirrels, are found in temperate forests. They are arboreal, usually encountered in trees 15-20 meters above ground. They are more common at higher altitudes, 3,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level, though they are sometimes observed at lower elevations in the spring, possibly in search of food not found at higher altitudes during that time of year. (Nowak, 1991; Evans, et al., 2000; Chakraborty and Ghose, 1984)

  • Range elevation
    3,000 to 4,000 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Petaurista elegans individuals are roughly the size of a cat, with adults weighing between 1,138 and 1,362 grams. Head and body length can be 305-585 mm, with a brush-like tail that can exceed the length of the body varying from 356-635 mm. All Petaurista have a furry membrane between their ankles and wrists that is supported by a cartilaginous rod that assists in gliding. Six mammae are located on their abdominal region. Their general coloration is dark on top and light on the underside. There is significant geographic variation in the species, and some authorities recognize multiple subspecies. Variants involve coloration of the back (brown to black), spotting on the back (unspotted to spotted, with spotted individuals varying in the extent of spotting), presence of reddish rump patch and/or a black line running the length of their backs, and the coloration of limbs and tail (black, brown or orange). The presence of intermediates connecting these forms supports recognizing all within a single, variable species. (Matthews, 1971; Macdonald, 1984)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    1,138 to 1,362 g
    to oz
  • Range length
    305 to 585 mm
    12.01 to 23.03 in


The mating systems of P. elegans have not been studied. Studies of a close relative, P. petaurista, suggested that mated pairs remain together throughout the year and are generally observed together. (Nowak, 1991)

Little is known about reproduction in P. elegans. They have been observed to produce litters of one or two offspring, and in Nepal, lactating females were collected in October. (Nowak, 1991; Macdonald, 1984)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • viviparous
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 2
  • Average number of offspring

Parental care in P. elegans has not been studied, but if mated pairs remain together throughout the year (as in P. petaurista) suggests that both males and females care for their offspring until independence. (Nowak, 1991)


Longevity of P. elegans is not known, but a related species, P. petaurista, lived up to 16 years in captivity. (Nowak, 1991; Grzimek, 1990)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    16 (high) years


Species of Petaurista share a method of gliding. By jumping and extending their extremities as far as possible they create a parachute with which they may glide long distances. They can control the direction of their gliding by the tension in the membrane, as well as by using their tail as a rudder. When the squirrel approaches its destination it increase the angle of its membrane relative to direction of movement. This results in a short upward glide and reduction in speed, allowing a comfortable landing. Though their membrane may be good for gliding, it makes climbing more difficult, and individuals limit their activities to the night hours when predation is not as high. They spend daylight hours in tree cavities. Little is known about their social behavior but their close relative, P. petaurista, occur in groups of a mated pair and their offspring. (Nowak, 1991; Matthews, 1971; Macdonald, 1984)

Home Range

A related species, P. leucogenys, occupies home ranges that range from 0.46 to 5.16 hectares in area. The home ranges of individuals overlap. (Nowak, 1991)

Communication and Perception

Communication in P. elegans and other members of the genus is not well known. Flying squirrels in general tend to be quiet animals. However, it is likely that they communicate through visual, chemical, auditory, and tactile signals, as do most mammals. (Nowak, 1991; Matthews, 1971)

Because they are likely to be nocturnal animals, P. elegans may rely on auditory, tactile, and chemical cues primarily and have especially keen night vision. (Nowak, 1991)

Food Habits

Petaurista in general are known to consume soft fruit, nuts, leaves and shoots, and they may also eat eggs, insects, and larvae. (Nowak, 1991; Macdonald, 1984)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Little is known about the predators of P. elegans and their anti-predator adaptations. They may be most susceptible to volant and arboreal predators, such as owls and civets. (Chakraborty and Ghose, 1984)

Ecosystem Roles

Spotted giant flying squirrels clearly play a role as primary and probably secondary consumers, but specific ecological roles have not been documented. P. elegans are hosts for Atopophthirus emersoni, a species of sucking louse. They may act as seed dispersers of the fruits they eat. (Nowak, 1991; Kim, 1977)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In some areas species of Petaurista are a food source for the indigenous people, and P. elegans are also hunted for their fur and hides. (Matthews, 1971)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of P. elegans on humans. (Nowak, 1991)

Conservation Status

Giant flying squirrels (genus Petaurista) were once fairly abundant within their range. However, human destruction of natural habitats, especially of tall trees necessary for nesting sites, and direct hunting pressures have had a negative impact on their breeding success. As a result, there has been a significant decrease in populations over the past several decades. However, the conservation status of P. elegans has not been formally evaluated. (Nowak, 1991; Chakraborty and Ghose, 1984)


Eva Ryckman (author), Andrews University, Tom Goodwin (editor), Andrews University.



uses sound to communicate


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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


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


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


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


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

World Map


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


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).


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


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


Chakraborty, T., R. Ghose. 1984. A Note on the status of the flying squirrels of Darjeeling and Sikkim India. Bombay Natural History Society, 80: 411.

Corbet, G., J. Hill. 1992. The mammals of the Indomalayan Region: a systematic review. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Evans, T., R. Timmins, J. Duckworth. 2000. Field observations of larger mammals in Laos. Mammalia, 64: 55-99.

Grzimek, B. 1990. Grzimek's encyclopedia of mammals. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

J. R. Ellerman, J., T. Morrison-Scott. 1966. Checklist of Palaearctic and Indian mammals, 1758 to 1946. London: British Museum (Natural History).

Kim, K. 1977. Atopophthirus emersoni, new genus and new species (Anoplura: Hoplopleuridea) from Petaurista elegans (Rodentia: Sciuridae), with a key to the genera of Enderleinellinae. Journal of Medical Entomology, 14: 417-420.

Macdonald, D. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File.

Matthews, L. 1971. The life of mammals. New York: Universe Books.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's mammals of the world. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 1993. "Mammals species of the world" (On-line ). Accessed 12/08/02 at