Sunday, January 26, 2014

First physical observation of Petinomys fuscocapillus (jerdon, 1847) with photographic evidence from Sinharaja World Heritage Site

 Small flying squirrel or Heen Hambawa (හීන් හම්බාවා) in Sinhalese is one of the rarest nocturnal mammals of heavy forests of the lower foothills to higher altitudes (Yapa A. & Ratnavira G., 2013). As per Phillips W.W.A. its range limited to the hills at medium altitudes with extremely local distribution (Phillips W.W.A., 1981). Further he has given a list of places from where it had been recorded up to then (Table 1). Other than Sri Lanka it is found only in Western Ghats of India and there also it was re-discovered in a coconut grove in Kerala state in 1989 after one hundred years and it was thought to be extinct in India till then (Yapa A. & Ratnavira G., 2013 & Nanayakkara, 2012 quoting Kurup, 1989).  In 2007 Jayasekara recorded it from Sinharaja forest with a black & White picture captured by a camera trap placed on a fruiting tree to assess fruit consumption by birds and mammals of a tropical rain forest (Jayasekara, 2007).  Most recent observation of it is from Laggala-Illukkubura road of Knuckles range made by Nanayakkara on 26th January 2013. They have observed and photographed a single specimen while it was feeding on tender part of the shoot and leaves of a climber at 2130 hr on a tree 9m above ground level in a well-developed semi-evergreen forest habitat .  They have not observed gliding of the animal (Nanayakkara, 2013). Hitherto only color photographs available of this illusive mammal was from them and it was the first physical examination of this species from Sri Lanka after 78 years.  

Altitude (ft)
Forests of Dimbula (in 1850s)

Gammaduwa in the east Mathale hills
Adam’s peak wilderness

It is believed that Small flying squirrel is feeds on wild fruits, berries, nuts, shoots and young leaves and possibly also sappy bark of certain trees (Phillips W.W.A., 1981)

Small flying squirrel is purely nocturnal and arboreal and it spends day time in a hole of a tree trunk or branch of a large tree. It carries its tail curled over its back when stationery and feeding. Not much information available on its breeding and it is said that two young are born in a hole, lined with vegetable fibres, etc. in which their mother lives day hours.

Observation and discussion
On 14th January 2014 we were able to observe and photograph a Small flying squirrel at a place close to the Sinharaja forest reserve (Outside the protected area) from around 11.30 PM to 3.00AM of 15th January 2014 (It was not at the site continuously during the observation period but appeared there time to time). It was observed about 2m above the ground while feeding probably on young shoots and leaves of a mango tree (Mangifera indica). Short distance (less than 3m) gliding also noticed at least once during the observation period.  Most of the time except when moving from one place to another it kept its tail draped over its back. It was not much shy and not paid much attention toward camera flashes and torch lights. According to all available published data this might be the second instance of the physical observation of this rare mammal in recent history with photographic evidences and first instance of observing it in Sinharaja forest reserve area though existing of it there has been already proved with camera traps (Jayasekara, 2007). Most important fact here is that this observation was made not inside the dense forest but small secondary forest area close to Kudawa conservation center office and this observation highlights the  important of conserving not only Sinharaja forest itself but also buffer zone forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja heritage site.


Kurup G.U., 1989 Rediscovery of small Travancore Flying Squirrel. Oryx 23: 2-3

Phillips W.W.A., 1980 Manual of the mammals of Sri Lanka Part 2: 175-177 

Weerakoon D. K. 2012. The Taxonomy and Conservation Status of Mammals in Sri Lanka. In: The National Red List 2012 of Sri Lanka; Conservation Status of the Fauna and Flora. Weerakoon, D.K. & S. Wijesundara Eds.,Ministry of Environment, Colombo, Sri Lanka 134-144pp

Yapa A. and Ratnavira G. 2013 The Mammals of Sri Lanka 212-213


  1. very interesting read. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Namal
      You are welcome!!
      And thanks for commenting!!