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Nature and Science 2010-04-14 Forest China Part 18 - Hermit of Forest Part 2

04-14-2010 10:51 BJT

Even after several decades of study, it remains a mystery, why the “Lord of the Firs” should have such difficulties reproducing. A germ cell from a silver fir takes thirty one months to grow into a mature seed. Such a long process contributes to the early death of the seedlings.

Eighteen years ago, a silver fir was successfully grafted. However it died, along with the female parent, immediately after producing its first blossom.

In the ten years after the discovery of the “Lord of the Firs”, four places in Southwest China were discovered where more than four thousand silver firs were growing in the wild.

The rainy season arrives. During what is a long period that covers part of spring and summer, 80% of the annual rainfall will be deposited.

The little silver fir has taken deeper root before the arrival of the rainy season. This gives it additional strength to stand up to the downpour.

The forest, offering plenty of rain and sufficient food, is home to some aboriginal creatures living in tree caves.

The petaurist is an ancient mammal, more commonly known as a “flying squirrel”.

A flying squirrel has three or four homes. It chooses which one to live in, according to the weather conditions.

In ancient Chinese writings, the flying squirrel was widely mocked. The philosopher Xunzi made fun of it because of its lack of ability in all five essential skills in the animal world; flying, climbing, swimming, running and digging.

The flying squirrels wait patiently in their tree caves for evening to fall after the rain. They will become the chief players in the night-time drama. The rain stops. The flying squirrels must be hungry. The leaves of the little silver fir seem like an appetizing choice.

But the flying squirrel seems to have something else to do.

It is going to answer a call of nature.

Flying squirrels establish a regular place to defecate. The soil they fertilize contains a special enzyme called “wuling grease” that, in traditional Chinese medicine, is used to treat angina and gynaecic disorders. More miraculous is a kind of orchid named the “golden hairpin” that grows in the soil, and is another highly efficacious herbal medicine.

The clouds and mist disperse, and the plants quickly open their leaf stomas. It’s a chance for them to take a deep breath before sunset. The flying squirrels are still waiting. They can only see properly in darkness. Meanwhile, the silver pheasants, after eating their fill, are being urged to return to their tree. Unlike the flying squirrels, they can see nothing after dark.

The petaurist is an ancient mammal, more commonly known as a "flying squirrel". 
The petaurist is an ancient mammal, more commonly known as a "flying squirrel". 

The moment finally arrives and the flying squirrels enter the scene.

Flying squirrels are close relatives of ordinary squirrels. But they are bigger in size. On average a flying squirrel is 1.2m tall and weighs about 1.5kg. Gliding down from the top of the mountain, it can safely land more than 500m away.

A male flying squirrel uses his glide to win the heart of a female. It’s the annual mating season.

Female flying squirrels cry to indicate that they are unattached. Several male suitors will respond by gliding to their tree caves, each hoping to stand out from its rivals.

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