Ten or 12 years ago, I was lucky enough to work on a flying squirrel research project in southeast Alaska. I thought it was cool to be working on such an elusive critter in such a wonderful location. It turns out you don’t have to travel to Alaska to find flying squirrels though. They can be found in in much of the east and in many mountain ranges in the west. If you live in the woods there is a good chance you’ve had flying squirrels in your neighborhood, even if you’ve never seen them.
Here are 10 things you might not know about flying squirrels.
- There are two species of flying squirrels in North America. Northern and southern. Don’t make assumptions though, in some places, the southerns can live farther north than the northerns.
- Both species are in the genus Glaucomys. This is from the Greek roots Glauco (blue-grey or opaque) and mys (mouse).
- Flying squirrels have such big eyes because they are nocturnal. They are only out at night.
- They should be called gliding squirrels, since they technically don’t fly. They have skin flaps from the front legs to hind legs. These patagium act as a parachute so they squirrels can glide. They jump off from high up in a tree and then glide out and down using their tail as a rudder to steer.
- Most glides are less than 20 feet in distance, but flying squirrels can glide over 100 feet through the forest at time.
- Relying on abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities, flying squirrels spend the days sleeping. Flying squirrels will give birth inside these tree cavities.
- The more the merrier. Communal roosting is common in flying squirrels, especially in the winter. This can help the animals stay warm.
- Most people who see flying squirrels spot them raiding the bird feeders. They are especially fond of peanuts in the shell, and some people build special flying squirrel feeders.
- When they aren’t buffeting at birdfeeders, flying squirrels eat mostly nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and the occasional bird egg.
- Despite looking similar, the flying squirrels of North America are not related to the sugar gliders of Australia.
Can you think of any famous flying squirrels?
I’d say the most famous is Rocket J. Squirrel of Rocky and Bullwinkle Fame. A distant second might be Nutsy, the mascot for the Richmond, Virginia, minor league baseball team. Go Flying Squirrels!