Flying Mammals: Characteristics And Examples

The flying mammals are vertebrates that have the ability to fly or glide because they share characteristics of mammals and at the same time make use of wings to hover.

Flying mammals have special wings or limbs that they use to fly or glide, but they still have the main features of mammals, such as: suckling their young with milk, having hair or fur, or having warm blood (staying warm even in cold climates) , among other.

These types of mammals can be classified as active or passive with respect to their type of flight. If they can stay in the air flapping their wings like birds, they are known as active.
If, on the other hand, they are only capable of gliding long distances in the air, they are known as passive.

That said, the only mammal that can actually fly is the bat. As for the other mammals capable of flight, what they do is plan long distances and the most recognized are the flying squirrels and the colugos.

Gliding mammals have thin skin between their limbs so they look like a comet. The skin they use for gliding is covered by a fur-filled layer of fur.

The limbs can be lengthened to maximize the “wing” area. Gliding mammals have also developed a good grip for landing (claws) and for climbing to the next glide point.

Examples of flying mammals

– Bats

Bats represent 20% of the species within mammals with a staggering 1,240 different bats.

A curious fact about these mammals is that a species of bat called the vampire bat can survive by feeding on blood.

Bats are not only the only flying mammals with active flight, but they have also been recognized as the fastest animals in horizontal flight.

An article published on the New Scientist web portal has reviewed a study from the University of Tennessee that highlights a new record beaten by bats.

In the study carried out, tracking devices were placed on a total of seven Brazilian bats that reached the incredible speed of 160km / h, a difference of 48km / h compared to the old horizontal flight speed record reached by the common swift, the bird. faster, with a mark of 112km / h.

– Gliding Marsupials

Sugar Glider

Marsupials are mammals whose females carry their children in a kind of bag. The most common example of a marsupial mammal is the kangaroo, however there are gliding marsupials. Most of these species are native to Australia.

Three marsupial families in Australia are gliders:

  • Pseudocheiridae, highlighting the greater glider ( Petauroides volans ) that not only glides but also has a weakly prehensile tail, that is, its tail is adapted to hold onto trees or grab objects or fruits.
  • Acrobatidae, which has the smallest mouse-sized glider: the Feather-Tailed Glider ( Acrobates pygmaeus ), which is the only marsupial to have a tail with flattened stiff hairs arranged like a feather to help direct its flight.
  • Petauridae. For example, the sugar glider ( Petaurus breviceps ) also known as the sugar glider or sugar glider , is a small animal whose tail is about the same length as its body. It is characterized by preferring the consumption of sugary foods.

– Flying squirrels

There are 35 species of soaring squirrels ( Sciuridae ) found in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Flying squirrels ( Petaurista spp ) use their tails to steer and their lateral wings make them less agile than other squirrels, so these flying squirrels are nocturnal and secretive.

The giant spotted flying squirrel ( P. elegans ) can grow up to 90 cm from head to tail.

Squirrels are classified as rodents and a total of 12 species of rodent rodents belonging to the Anomaluridae family are found in Africa; their distinctive feature is their scaly tails.

Squirrels are recognized as one of the most efficient gliding animals, reaching distances that exceed 200 meters in a single jump.

– Colugos

The colugo is often called a “flying lemur” but it does not fly and it is not a lemur. It is most closely related to bats.

This mammal, which is usually the size of a cat, is among the largest gliding mammals. 
It can glide more than 100 meters and lose only about 10 meters in height during its journey, spreading its membranes to take kite form and rise above the air.

Found in the forests of Southeast Asia, the colugo survives on a diet of poorly nourished leaves and flowers so it is often dormant for long periods of time.

It feeds backwards like a sloth. To avoid raptors, it is activated at dawn or dusk.

– Flying fox or lemur of the Philippines

jenesuisquncon [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is a species of the order of the colugos. It is a mammal, native to the Philippines. His body can measure from 77 to 95 centimeters. It has a membrane known as a patagio, which connects the extremities on each side and the tail.

In addition to this structure, your fingers are united thanks to an interdigital membrane. In this way, the glide surface is increased. When the Philippine Flying Lemur darts off a branch, it spreads its legs apart. Thus, the membrane spreads out, acting like a parachute.

– The oldest flying mammal

Despite the difficulty, numerous researchers have indicated that a fossil discovered in China suggests that mammals were testing flight around the same time, or even earlier, than birds.

The earliest record of a bat capable of controlled flight dates to about 51 million years ago, while, prior to this discovery, the oldest known gliding mammal was a rodent that lived 30 million years ago in the Late Oligocene period.

The researchers believe that gaps in the fossil record of flying mammals are due to the creatures’ delicate flight characteristics that are difficult to preserve.

The researchers said the squirrel-sized animal lived at least 125 million years ago and used a skin-covered membrane of skin to glide through the air. The creature was so unusual, they said, that it belonged to a new order of mammals.

The Sino-American team in charge of the investigation said that Volaticotherium antiquus , which means “ancient gliding beast,” belonged to a now-extinct ancestral line and was not related to modern flying mammals such as bats or flying marsupials.

This new finding places V. antiquus as the oldest known flying mammal. Dr. Jin Meng, author of the paper and a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said he believed the creature lived between 130 and 165 million years ago.


  1. Rebecca E. Hirsch. (2015). Vampire Bats: Nighttime Flying Mammals. Google Books: Lerner Publications.
  2. Charles Walsh Schwartz, Elizabeth Reeder Schwartz. (2001). The Wild Mammals of Missouri. Google Books: University of Missouri Press.
  3. Stephen Matthew Jackson. (2012). Gliding Mammals of the World. Google Books: Csiro Publishing.
  4. Gary F. McCracken, Kamran Safi, Thomas H. Kunz, Dina KN Dechmann, Sharon M. Swartz, Martin Wikelski. (Accepted October 12, 2016.). Airplane tracking documents the fastest flight speeds recorded for bats. Published online November 9, 2016., from The Royal Society Website:
  5. John R. Hutchinson, Dave Smith .. (1996). Vertebrate Flight: Gliding and Parachuting. 11/1/96, from the University of California Museum of Paleontology: UCMP. Website:
  6. Aleksandra A. Panyutina, Leonid P. Korzun, Alexander N. Kuznetsov. (2015). Flight of Mammals: From Terrestrial Limbs to Wings. Google Books: Springer.
  7. Vladimir Evgenʹevich Sokolov. (1982). Mammal Skin. Google Books: University of California Press.

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