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Giant Flying Squirrels Discovered in Himalayas

Two new species of cat-sized flying squirrels discovered in the Himalaya. It's remarkable that, even in today's world, we're still finding new species.

The rodents, which live at elevations of more than 15,000 feet, have fluffy tails that act as rudders while they sail between rocky cliffs, says NatGeo. Please note that the photo of a flying squirrel (above) is not from the Himalayas - none exist of the newly discovered rodents flying. The photo depicts a Red and White Giant Flying Squirrel from China - but if you mentally swap the colouring to dark grey and make the head bigger, you'll get a pretty good idea of what they look like.

It’s not easy making a living among the wind-scoured rock faces of the Himalaya, home to the world’s tallest mountains. Among the hardy inhabitants is the woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus), which, at five pounds and three feet long, is one of the world’s largest squirrels. It’s also one of the least known mammals on Earth: First named 130 years ago, the house cat-size rodent was believed extinct until its “rediscovery” in the 1990s.

Kristofer Helgen, chief scientist and director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, has been drawn to animals that exist mostly as scientific question marks. Intrigued by some recent squirrel sightings in the Himalaya, Helgen and his colleagues decided to dig deeper into this mysterious species by examining museum specimens and collecting data from sightings of the species, such as from camera traps.

Their results revealed an unexpected twist. The woolly flying squirrel is actually two distinct species that live thousands of miles apart on the roof of the world: the Tibetan woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus tibetensis) and the Yunnan woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus nivamons).

The former lives at the intersection of India, Bhutan, and Tibet, whereas the latter dwells thousands of miles to the east, in the Yunnan Province of southwestern China, according to the study published recently in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

“This discovery is so exciting,” says John Koprowski, a squirrel expert at the University of Wyoming. “That there were two relatively large animals that had gone unreported shows how little we know about the natural world.”


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