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Monday, April 30, 2018

Japanese Dwarf Flying Squirrel et al

Hmm, must have brought the wrong hat.

When looking for subject matter for Japan—It’s A Wonderful Rife, which has now evolved into my Encyclopedia Japonica, I can rely on my friends and fellow readers to send me something interesting, or I can try and look for stuff myself—both are fraught with danger as I always begin writing on a subject AS I read the subject matter… it’s so I can be surprised (or disappointed) in the same manner as you.

To be honest, it’s really boring to write about stuff I already know and am just regurgitating. I don’t write these blogs to be bored. Or to regurgitate. Blech.

For most of us, what we know about flying squirrels we have acquired from a 1960s-era television cartoon, which means that while it’s fascinating, it’s not accurate, as I’m pretty sure that flying squirrels to not wear aviator googles…. pretty sure.    

The Japanese dwarf flying squirrel (aka Pteromys momonga, or in Japanese: ニホンモモンガ, Nihon momonga) is one of two species of Old World flying squirrels (the other is Petauristini).

The Japanese dwarf flying squirrel, like its name suggests, a Japanese-only critter that lives in sub-alpine forests and boreal evergreen forests on the main Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu islands.

First off… despite what it’s name says, flying squirrels do not fly. They glide. Even the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel version.

Flying squirrels, regardless of size, glide from tree to tree by using a patagium, a furry, parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle (not between legs and tail). Their long tail provides stability in flight. Ya gotta admit, it’s a lot easier than trying to cross a busy street.

I once saw the saddest thing ever a few years back in Toronto. I saw a dead squirrel on the road, in the middle of a crosswalk.

Here we finally had a squirrel smart enough to try and use a crosswalk for safe passage across a busy road, only to find that it lacked the digital dexterity to push the cross walk button or the aptitude to point a clawed finger as it began to cross. Then again, it might have done all that and still been hit by a car.

A friend of mine, their teenage son was hit by a car at a crosswalk… lots of damage to the kid, and while he’ll never be able to walk through airport security without setting off the metal detectors, he’s at least back up and playing baseball.

Another aside… in my three years in rural Japan, I not once ever saw a squirrel, and remarked as much to others. Then again, I have since learned (like one sentence earlier), that the Japanese squirrel’s population continues to diminish due top human encroachment.

Even though I lived in a part of Japan the natives duly call do-inaka (rural country bumpkin area), I never saw a squirrel… perhaps because there were so few trees, having been cut down centuries earlier to make way for rice paddies.  

The Japanese dwarf flying squirrel grows to a length of 20 centimeters (eight inches), and likes to hide in tree holes (usually coniferous) coming out at night.  Within the tree nooks, the nests are comprised of mosses and lichens.

Wait… are squirrels nocturnal? Maybe just the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel.

Helping with it’s gliding stability is its flattened tail, which ranges between 10-14 centimeters ( 3.9-5.5 inches).

Weight-wise, its between 150-220 grams (5.3-7.76 ounces).

It eats plant buds, leaves, bark, fruits and seeds, and because it has no main threat save human encroachment, it is relatively common in Japan.

To eat, it will generally hang upside down from a twig and pull the food towards it, but if it is foraging on the ground, it tends to keep its back legs in place and stretch the rest of it in a timid fashion to grab the food.

Its hair color is drab, with its back covered with grey-brown hair, and a white belly, which seems to do the trick anyway when it’s mating season—twice a year—between May and July .

They young are gestated for about four weeks, and each litter is around two to three pups, though more can be born. The pups are weaned by six weeks, and are probably whizzing around in the Japanese forests after that. 

And, because there’s a Japanese dwarf flying squirrel, I checked, and yes there is indeed a Japanese giant flying squirrel (ムササビ, musasabi, Petaurista leucogenys)—another Japanese native that lives in the sub-alpine forests and boreal evergreen forests on Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu islands, as well as Guangzhou, China.

the Giant version has a head-to-body length of 25-50 centimeters (9.8 - 19.7 inches) with a tail 30-40 centimeters (11.8 - 15.75 inches) long, and weighs anywhere from 700-1,500 grams (24.7 - 52.9 ounces). Unlike it’s dwarf cousins, the Giant only breeds once a year in autumn, with only one to two pups.

Okay, here’s something interesting. Forget about sperm leaking out… after sexual ejaculation, the male Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel produces a sticky protein called a coitus plus from his penis that solidifies to block up the female’s vagina to prevent leakage and heighten the chance of fertilization. Also, if you are another  male Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel, you ain’t getting no where with this female.

Although… and this might be even weirder, a male Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel can use his penis to remove the coitus plug.

’nuff said.

Andrew Joseph
PS: For those of you who are wondering what my opening line is all about, it’s from Bullwinkle & Rocky, where Bullwinkle the moose turns to Rocky the flying squirrel and says: Hey Rock… watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
Nothing happens, or something else comes out of the hat, at which point Bullwinkle says, “Hmmm, must have brought the wrong hat.”
PPS: For those of you who didn’t know that, you either had a misspent youth or are even now very young.

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