Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Petaurus pseudoparalichthyida

The juvenile
fluke glider (Petaurus pseudoparalichthyida) is purely arboreal, and darts from branch to branch like many neighboring creatures of its build. But with maturity will come changes in habit as it acquires the standard characteristics of the flatpossum order.

The adult fluke glider spends all of its idle time either belly-down against the earth — hidden under leaves, twigs and loose topsoil near the roots of its favorite tree — or flush against the trunk of that tree, waiting to execute a perfect back-flip and claim an unsuspecting cricket from the forest floor. When it does sail to another tree, it does so with the assurance that whatever adversary it may encounter in midair will almost certainly target it from above.

All of these factors inform its metamorphosis: The body widens but does not increase in thickness, resulting in what has been mistaken for the mere pelt of a meatier animal. The skull becomes wedge-shaped, like a hatchet blade but rounded at the snout — and the eyes migrate to the top of the head and settle so close together that they appear to touch.

The Korombatku peoples use the fluke glider’s hide exclusively to fashion a small drum reputed for its fine timbre. Its ceremonial purpose — to imbue a departing spirit with stealth and speed, the better to avoid soul-eating demons in the flight to the hereafter — means that it is only played at funerals. To use it otherwise is a gross obscenity. Moreover, to tap out the ritual dirge on a common pigskin drum is considered inadequate metaphysical protection.

From: E. W. Lurgent, Fullcraw’s Nature Atlas of New Guinea. Maplewood: Fullcraw & Fullcraw, 1952: p. 163.