Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

Woolly Flying Squirrel

Here's the thing: flying squirrels don't actually propel themselves through the air. Instead, they glide, kept aloft by their patagium (the parachute-like skin that webs across their limbs). The delicate action of flight, especially without self-propulsion, is easiest for small rodents, which is why most flying squirrels are between 5 and 12 inches long. The Woolly Flying Squirrel, however, is an outlier among its peers. Standing two feet tall, its bushy tail stretches an additional two feet off its body. Nevertheless, the squirrel manages to "fly" gracefully through the air — though only recently did it launch itself back into our consciousness. After being presumed extinct for more than 70 years, two nature lovers from upstate New York rediscovered the Woolly Flying Squirrel in northern Pakistan in 1995. The mystique surrounding this species of squirrel extends beyond its decades-long absence and flying ability: in some Pakistani subcultures, its urine is purported to be an aphrodisiac and its cry is said to herald the death of a loved one.