April 01, 2017
Rarely seen during the day, the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel is a nocturnal mammal. Although called ‘flying squirrel’, it is actually a gliding mammal incapable of sustained flight. Launching from the highest branch of the tree, it glides down to the base of the next tree before climbing up again.
It steers by adjusting the tautness of its patagium, which is controlled by a small cartilaginous wrist bone. The tail acts as a stabiliser in flight and as an airfoil when ‘braking’ prior to landing on a tree trunk. These squirrels are largely frugivorous and are especially fond of figs.
Though I have seen and photographed them earlier at night in coffee plantations in Coorg, I had never seen one during the day. Recently, when I visited a friend in Madikeri, we sat in his garden drinking tea and watched workers in the plantation lop branches for shade. When one of them climbed up a large tree, a dark shape glided out into the neighbouring tree. I grabbed my camera and made sure the settings were good for a shutter speed of 1/1000 before approaching the tree where the squirrel had moved to. The squirrel reach the upper branches of the tree and as I brought the camera up to my eye, the squirrel launched itself into the air. Thanks to the quick autofocus of my Canon 7D MarkII and my 300mm f2.8 lens, I was able to take some mid-air shots before the squirrel disappeared behind the branches of the next tree.