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Flying Squirrel as Big As a Cat Discovered in Himalayas, ‘One of the least known mammals on Earth’

Eupetaurus Cinereusl / Wildlife Conservation Society

The world becomes smaller and smaller as mass communication and transit connect the continents in a network of social networks and night stopovers. However, even with all this globalization, there are still natural secrets to discover for those who are willing to look.

Incredibly, a kind of sliding squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) last seen in 1994 was compared to museum specimens and found to actually be three squirrels, not one.

University of Wyoming squirrel expert John Koprowski told National Geographic “That there were two relatively large animals that had not been reported shows how little we know about the natural world.”

The Yunnan Woolly Flying Squirrel and the Tibetan Woolly Flying Squirrel now take their place in the scientific record alongside the newly reclassified Western Woolly Flying Squirrel.

The first new squirrel lives in the mysterious gorges of Yunnan, thousands of miles from the territory of the second, which lives at an altitude of 16,000 feet at the intersection of India, Tibet and Bhutan.

Li Quan

Helgen and his colleagues visited museums around the world to gather information on the woolly flying squirrel and examined 24 specimens in total. Differences in skull shape and coat color led to the idea that what they were looking at was actually three different species, two of which now recently described, not just different populations.

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The three woolly flying squirrels use their tails, which are almost as long as their bodies, as rudders to direct their gliding descents, and in the rain it functions as an umbrella. At 5.4 pounds and three feet long from nose to tail, they are one of the largest gliding mammals, surviving primarily by using a pair of tall teeth to grind juniper leaves and pine needles.

Understandably difficult to spot, the gray plush fur that keeps squirrels warm in freezing temperatures perfectly camouflages them with the rocks of their mountainous environment. It’s hard enough to see a snow leopard among the rocks on the mountainside, let alone a squirrel.

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“This is just the beginning”, Helgen told National Geographic. “Now that they have been named, scientists can learn more about how they live.”
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