The range of Eupetaurus cinereus is restricted to the extreme northern portion of the Himilayas (Roberts 1977). All specimens have been collected from the rugged, mountainous region of northern Pakistan, but the range of E. cinereus is presumed to extend somewhat into Tibet (Nowak 1991).
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Eupetaurus cinereus is known entirely from about ten specimens (Grzimek 1990). Like other flying squirrels, it has elastic membranes on each side of the body connecting the fore and hind legs (Prater 1965). It is slightly larger in size and has a shorter, bushier tail than the Giant Red Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista albiventer) which also inhabits Pakistan. Two E. cinereus specimens measured 61 cm and 51.5 cm, respectively, from head to base of tail. The larger specimen had a tail length of 38 cm, while the smaller had a tail measuring 48 cm. The body is covered by a dense coat of straight, silky hairs. The dorsal pelage appears blue-gray, while the underside is pale gray in color. Creamy white hairs cover the throat and ears, and dense, black fur covers the soles of the feet except for the naked, pinkish brown toe pads. The tail, bearing hairs of about 7.6 cm in length, is large and bulky and may be as broad as the animal's body (Roberts 1977). Molars have relatively high crowns compared to the low crowned, brachyodont molars of all other flying squirrel genera, and unlike other flying squirrels, the claws of E. cinereus are blunt and adapted for rocky terrain instead of an arboreal lifestyle (Blanford 1891).
Habitat and Ecology
Within its range, E. cinereus dwells on rocky terrain at and above the timber line (Grzimek 1990). It probably ventures into the isolated pockets of conifer forest to forage (Roberts 1977).
Terrestrial Biomes: mountains
The high crowned molars of E. cinereus indicate a diet of extremely rough vegetation. It appears that much of the diet consists of buds and cones, particularly those of the native spruce, Picea morinda. At high elevations, Picea morinda begins producing buds in April and cones in late summer. The cones are shed in winter when the ground is covered by snow, meaning that, by early spring, food for E. cinereus may be in extremely short supply. During these hard times, E. cinereus probably turns to mosses and lichens as a main food source (Roberts, 1977).
Life History and Behavior
Very little is actually known about the reproduction of E. cinereus. An immature specimen was collected on April 17. This seems to indicate that breeding occurs early in the spring and that two litters may be produced each season (Roberts 1977). However, such conclusions are little more than speculation.
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Listed as Endangered as it is very likely that Eupetaurus cinereus has had a reduction in population of 50% or more in the last 10 years, based on habitat loss in the region during this period (Hasan 2008, Rao and Marwat 2003). It is also possible that the species will continue to have its population reduced, perhaps by as much as 50% over the next 10 years, if further deforestation is not controlled. Much of this forest has been logged in recent times and estimates place the total extent of forest remaining in the entire northern areas in 2003 at about 2,800 km² (Rao and Marwat 2003), down by more than 50% in 10 years from over 6,600 km² in 1992 (Hasan 2008). Total population size is estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 individuals within the known range (Zahler and Woods 1997) and there is an estimated continuing decline of at least 20% within five years if current levels of deforestation are not controlled.
Eupetaurus cinereus was first described by Oldfield Thomas in 1888. Since that time, only a handful of specimens have been collected. Photographs of the species are equally rare. Because it inhabits a very limited range in an exceedingly hostile climate, our knowledge of E. cinereus is too limited to accurately determine the status of the population. However, it is reasonable to assume that E. cinereus has always been a relatively rare species, existing at low population densities (Roberts 1977).
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Woolly flying squirrel
The Woolly Flying Squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) is the sole species placed in the genus Eupetaurus. Until recently scientific knowledge of this rare species was limited to 11 skins collected in the late nineteenth century. However, recent research has confirmed that it remains in Pakistani Kashmir. It is the longest member of the family Sciuridae and the biggest gliding animal known, but observations confirm that despite its size, it does glide effectively like other flying squirrels.
Distribution and description
Eupetaurus has been recorded in northern Pakistan in the area around Gilgit. These areas include Chitral, Astor. Other specimens have been purchased from a bazaar in Tibet, collected in Tibet, and collected in Yunnan, China. Since 1994, specimens have been captured in the Sai Valley, Gorabad, and Balti Gali, all in northern Pakistan (Zahler and Woods, 1997). In 2004, the animal was videotaped by Dinets in Raikot Valley near Nanga Parbat, Pakistan. The preferred habitat appears to be high elevation conifer forests associated with cliffs and caves.
The Woolly Flying Squirrel is very large for a flying squirrel (head and body = 45–60 centimetres (18–24 in)). The cheek teeth are unique as they are both flat-crowned and high crowned (hypsodont), setting Eupetaurus apart from other squirrels and suggesting that it feeds on very abrasive plant material, including pine needles (Zahler and Khan, 2003). The animal has fur that is long and thick, with a grizzled pattern that gives the appearance of a woolly pelage, thus the name.
The woolly flying squirrel is unique among the flying squirrels. This is particularly true of its large size and its unique dentition. This led a few early researchers to go so far as to create a distinct family. Some of their arguments were based on poorly drawn and labeled diagrams of the cranium and lower jaw. Zahler and Woods (1997) suggest instead that Eupetaurus is closely related to another genus of large flying squirrels, Petaurista.
- Dinets, V. (2011). Observations of woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) in Nanga Parbat Range of northern Pakistan. Mammalia 75(3): 277-280.
- Zahler, P. (1996). Rediscovery of the woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus). Journal of Mammalogy 77: 54-57.
- Zahler, P. (2001). The woolly flying squirrel and gliding: does size matter? Acta Theriologica 46: 429-435.
- Zahler, P. and M. Khan. (2003). Evidence for dietary specialization on pine needles by the woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus). Journal of Mammalogy, 84(2): 480-486.
- Zahler, P. and C. A. Woods. (1997). The status of the woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) in Northern Pakistan. pp 495–514 in Biodiversity of Pakistan (S. A. Mufti, C. A, Woods, and S. A. Hasan eds.). Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad.