Dermoptera (Flying Lemurs)


Dermopterans are an order of placental mammals represented by only two living species confined to Southeast Asia. Numerous anatomical specializations for arboreal climbing and gliding distinguish dermopterans from other mammals. Competing phylogenetic reconstructions place dermopterans as the nearest relatives of either primates or bats.

Keywords: colugos; gliding; Primatomorpha

Figure 1.

A female colugo with her infant, depicted in a naturalistic pose. Note the expansive patagium and the unusual hanging posture. Living dermopterans cannot employ the typical quadrupedal postures that characterize most mammals because of numerous specializations in their fore‐ and hindlimb skeleton. Illustration by Mark Klingler.

Figure 2.

Alternative phylogenetic reconstructions for dermopterans and their close relatives. (a) A traditional phylogenetic reconstruction showing close evolutionary relationships between tree shrews (Scandentia) and primates on the one hand, and dermopterans and bats (Chiroptera) on the other. (b) A more plausible phylogenetic reconstruction showing a close evolutionary relationship between tree shrews (Scandentia) and Primatomorpha, the supraordinal group that includes primates and dermopterans. Note that bats (Chiroptera) are not necessarily thought to be closely related to these animals. (c) The same phylogenetic tree as in (b), but with the addition of fossil dermopteran taxa (denoted by daggers). The acquisition of gliding behaviour in dermopterans occurred at the point on the tree designated by a star, after the common ancestors of paromomyids and living flying lemurs split away from the plesiadapid lineage. Accordingly, the evolution of gliding in dermopterans postdates their divergence from all other living mammals, and has no bearing on the evolution of flight in bats.


Further Reading

Beard KC (1993) Phylogenetic systematics of the Primatomorpha, with special reference to Dermoptera. In: Szalay FS, Novacek MJ and McKenna MC (eds) Mammal Phylogeny: Placentals, pp. 129–150. New York: Springer‐Verlag.

Beard KC (1993) Origin and evolution of gliding in early Cenozoic Dermoptera (Mammalia, Primatomorpha). In: MacPhee RDE (ed.) Primates and Their Relatives in Phylogenetic Perspective, pp. 63–90. New York: Plenum Press.

Bhatnagar KP and Wible JR (1994) Observations on the vomeronasal organ of the colugo Cynocephalus (Mammalia, Dermoptera). Acta Anatomica 151: 43–48.

Ducrocq S, Buffetaut E, Buffetaut‐Tong H et al. (1992) First fossil flying lemur: a dermopteran from the late Eocene of Thailand. Palaeontology 35: 373–380.

MacPhee RDE, Cartmill M and Rose KD (1989) Craniodental morphology and relationships of the supposed Eocene dermopteran Plagiomene (Mammalia). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 9: 329–349.

Pettigrew JD, Jamieson BGM, Robson SK et al. (1989) Phylogenetic relations between microbats, megabats and primates (Mammalia: Chiroptera and Primates). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B 325: 489–559.

Wible JR (1993) Cranial circulation and relationships of the colugo Cynocephalus (Dermoptera, Mammalia). American Museum Novitates 3072: 1–27.

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How to Cite close
Beard, Chris(May 2001) Dermoptera (Flying Lemurs). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001560]