Phalanger, a genus of marsupial mammals, the type of the family of phalangistidce, so called from having the second and third toes of the hind foot united in a common integument. They are expert climbers, dwelling upon trees, and eating leaves, buds, fruits, and occasionally small birds, mammals, and insects; they keep concealed during the day on the branches or in the hollows of trees, quitting their hiding places at twilight; they are rather sluggish, except such as are provided with a flying membrane.
The head is moderate, the face short, the upper lip cleft, and the muffle naked; limbs equal in length, all five-toed, the anterior with compressed and curved claws, the posterior with the inner toe large, nailless, at right angles and opposable to the rest; the tail long, and generally prehensile; the pouch well developed; the eyes large; the stomach simple, and the caecum largely developed. Of the genera composing this family, phascolarctos (De Blainv.) has been noticed under Koala; the others are phalangista (Cuv.) and petaurus (Shaw). - In phalangista the teeth are: incisors 6/2, canines (1-0)/(0-0) premolars (2-2)/(2-2), true molars (4-4)/(4-4); the anterior upper pair of incisors are larger and longer than the rest, and the large lower incisors are nearly horizontal; the small teeth between the incisors and molars are not constant even on both sides of the jaws of the same individual, but in most the true molars are (4-4)/(4-4); the tail is prehensile. The genus has been subdivided into four subgenera, cuscus, trichosurus, pseudochirus, and dromicia. They are about the size of a domestic cat, and are confined to the islands of the Indian and Australian archipelagoes.
The ursine phalanger (P. [ C] ursina, Temm.) is of a general black color, freckled with yellow, under parts dirty yellow, and iris orange red; it is about 20 in. to the root of the tail, the latter being 19 in.; they live in thick woods; the very fat flesh of this, as of other species, is much relished by the natives, and the teeth are used as ornaments; some of the species emit a fetid odor from the anal glands. The vulpine phalanger (P. [T.] vul-pina, Desm.) is of a general grayish color, yellowish white below, with the muzzle and chin blackish, the feet tinged with brown, the tail bushy and black except at the base, and an oblong rusty patch on the chest; it is as large as a cat, with long, pointed, fox-like ears and nose, and numerous long black moustaches; in captivity it usually sleeps in the daytime, and takes its food between the hands like a squirrel; the prehensile tail assists it in climbing. Specimens of these, and of several other species, have been seen living at the London zoological gardens. - The genus petaurus includes the flying phalangers, which have a membrane extended from the fore to the hind legs; the tail is very long, and well clothed with hair; they resemble flying squirrels in appearance and habits.
The flying phalanger (P. taguanoides, Desm.) has broad, short, and rounded ears, densely hairy externally; the membrane extends to the elbow; the tail is cylindrical, longer than the head and body; fur long and soft; general color above brownish black, pencilled with whitish on the flanks, the under parts impure white, and the tail black; the length of the body is 20 in., and of the tail 22 in. It inhabits New South Wales, is nocturnal, and feeds on flowers of gum trees, and on insects and honey contained therein; it is an expert climber, and rarely descends to the ground. Some of the smaller species, as the sugar or Norfolk island flying squirrel (P. sciureus, Desm.), are hunted for their fur, which is used for the same purposes as chinchilla. In flying powers they are equal to the flying squirrels. - For other genera and species, and full details, see vol. i. of Waterhouse's "Natural History of the Mammalia".
Vulpine Phalanger (Phalangista vulpina).
Flying Phalanger (Petaurus taguanoides).