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These newly discovered species of squirrels are woolly, huge, and can glide3 min read

June 29, 2021 3 min read


These newly discovered species of squirrels are woolly, huge, and can glide3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In May, scientists from Australia and China discovered two new species of squirrels from the high Himalayas.

Scientists have known about the flying squirrel (scientific name: Eupetaurus cinereus) for a long time but they believed the species to be extinct up until 1994, when they were discovered in Pakistan.

A careful review of museum specimens and records revealed that the genus of the species was found in northern Pakistan and north-western India particularly Uttarakhand; south-central Tibet, northern Sikkim and western Bhutan; and north-western Yunnan, China. Further research shows that they are a distinct species.

What’s a genus?
Just take a look at this classification of a Grizzly bear to get an idea of how the classification of species works:

And two of these species have been recently found. One of them is called the Tibetan woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus tibetensis) and the other one is called the Yunnan woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus nivamons).

You must be wondering what are those strange words in parenthesis? Well, those words that make the innocent squirrel appear apocalyptic are their scientific names.

What is a scientific name?
Scientific names or binomial nomenclature is a formal method of assigning a two-part name to a living thing. First part of the name comes from the genus, and the second part is specific to the species. It is also called a Latin name as the words are often derived from descriptions in this language.

Why is it important to use scientific names?
There are so many languages in the world and every language has different naming words. Binomial nomenclature creates a universal name that scientists around the world can identify.

Scientists believe that the flying squirrel could be over 3 feet long, and could weigh close to 2.5 kgs, making them the largest squirrels in the world!

They are genetically very different than the other squirrels. They have a huge furry tail like that of a fox. They are nocturnal and live in high altitudes (upto 15,700 feet) at a safe distance from humans, unlike your friendly neighbourhood squirrel.

This makes them one of the least seen mammals on Earth.Very few people have ever seen the squirrel fly.

image: Giphy

Technically, the squirrels do not fly. They glide. As they jump from one tree to the other, they elongate and spread out their body all the way from their heads to their tails to elegantly glide to their chosen location. They can do this because of the presence of patagium, a membrane between the forelimbs and hindlimbs. 

The habitat of the flying squirrels is threatened because of deforestation, agriculture, and human settlements. The difference between the two species marks how they have evolved to adapt to the changing environments. The Yunnan woolly flying squirrel has adapted itself to sustain in very high altitudes and even grasslands. They can now grind their teeth. The Tibetan flying squirrel prefers snow-clad mountains as its home.

Northeastern Himalayas in India have been identified as a biodiversity hotspot. The presence of the gliding squirrels makes it all the more special with regards to conservation and care.

Before you go, how about matching the following living things with their scientific names?

With excerpts from The Hindustan Times