Southern Flying Squirrels
Southern flying squirrels, an exclusively nocturnal mammal, inhabit the
entire eastern half of the United States from southeastern Canada to southern
- Actual encounters with humans are rare because flying squirrels are
exclusively nocturnal in their activity. They live in woods with nut
or acorn-bearing trees, a water supply, scattered dead trees and snags.
They sometimes nest in attics. Autumn nights are best for observing
flying squirrels because they are busy gathering food for winter. Flying
squirrels are less active during cold winter weather.
- Flying squirrels can be identified by their high-pitched, excited-sounding
"cheeps" often heard within the first several hours after
sunset. They use these sounds to keep track of one another and offer
warnings. Sounds produced by flying squirrels sometimes exceed the upper
limits of frequencies heard by human ears.
- Flying squirrels feed on hickory nuts, acorns, wild cherry pits and
other seeds. They also eat dormant insects, lichens and fungi. In warmer
weather, they eat various types of vegetation, including mushrooms,
persimmons, wild grapes and the bark of many hardwood trees.
- Though they do not hibernate, flying squirrels nest together in groups
during winter. They can reduce their metabolic rate and body temperature
to conserve energy, and they benefit from one another's radiant heat.
Social reasons also encourage the behavior among related flying squirrels.
- The females are attentive mothers. They maintain several secondary
nests to which they can bring their young to keep them safe. A flying
squirrel was once seen moving her young during a forest fire and being
singed in the process. Also, she will not hesitate to defend her young,
even if is she is outnumbered or if her foe is larger. Nests are made
out of shredded bark and/or Spanish moss.
- Baby flying squirrels are usually weaned when they are about six to
eight weeks old. The newly born young are usually about 2.5 inches long
from head to tip of tail and weigh less than one-fifth of an ounce.
They are blind, pink and hairless. Their eyes open in about three weeks.
The gliding membrane, however, is already fully developed. They can
live at least five years in the wild and 12 years in captivity.
- The gliding capabilities of the young develop quickly. By eight weeks
they can execute 90-degree turns, lateral loops and other maneuvers
like adults. Adults often make glides of up to 160 feet; the record
is about 100 yards.
- Their major nocturnal predators are owls and snakes, particularly
rat and corn snakes in the Southeast. Raccoons also like to make prey
of flying squirrels.
- The peak breeding seasons for southern flying squirrels are February
through March and August through October.
Suggested Reading Material:
"Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland" by David
Webster, James Parnell and Walter Biggs, Jr. 1985. The University of
North Carolina Press.
"Mammals of the Savannah River Site" by Gus Cothran, Michael
Smith, Jerry Wolff and John Gentry. 1991. Savannah River Ecology Laboratory,
"Peterson's Field Guides: Mammals" by William Burt and Richard
Grossenheider.1980. Houghton Mifflin Company.
Myths & Facts:
Myth: Flying squirrels fly.
Fact: Flying squirrels glide. The membrane (patagium) located between
the wrist of the front leg and the ankle of the hind leg allows the squirrel
to glide from one tree to the next. The tail is used as rudder to help
Myth: Flying squirrels are grey squirrels that fly.
Fact: While grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and flying squirrels are both members of
the Sciuridae family, grey squirrels cannot fly.
"Although they are very social animals, the social behavior of flying
squirrels is something that will be very difficult to fully understand
because we cannot watch them," Savannah River Ecology Laboratory
researcher Tom Risch says. "But indirectly we can answer some questions
about the animals' reproductive success. These are really neat little
animals that can answer some important questions for us."