The name of the flying squirrel is a bit of a misnomer because the flying squirrel does not actually fly. It glides through the air by using loose flaps of body skin as a sort of parachute.
Scientific & Common Names
There are two varieties of flying squirrels in North America. The northern flying squirrel is Glaucomys sabrinus, and the southern flying squirrel is Glaucomys volans. However, there are also many other types of flying squirrels in other areas of the globe, including the wooly flying squirrel in Pakistan and the pygmy flying squirrel in Malaysia.
Most flying squirrels have brown fur. These medium-sized rodents tend to be a bit larger than the typical tree squirrels that inhabit forests and urban areas. Flying squirrels have large, slightly bulging eyes and stubby, flat tails. The most noticeable characteristic of a flying squirrel is the stretchy, furry membrane that extends from its front legs to its back legs.
Flying squirrels usually breed twice a year, once in the spring and again in the summer after raising their first litter. Females give birth to litters of two to seven baby squirrels after a gestation period of 40 days. After about eight weeks, the young squirrels will forage with their mothers and begin to glide in the trees themselves.
Flying squirrels are omnivores, eating insects, bird eggs, nuts, fruits, and seeds. They can glide from tree branch to tree branch using their tails, front legs, and back legs as rudders to steer in mid-air. Flying squirrels are typically nocturnal, and they are preyed upon by owls, hawks, foxes, cats, and raccoons. Flying squirrels typically live in forests and woodlands, nesting in cavities in the trees.
Biologists studying flying squirrels in the United States have noticed that northern flying squirrels are leaving their historical habitat, and southern flying squirrels are invading those areas. Biologists believe that the flying squirrel evolved alongside the typical tree squirrel, and in evolutionary terms, these two species are sisters.
Flying squirrels are very common in many areas of the world, but many people have never seen them. People often are unaware of their prevalence because flying squirrels are so small and are active only at night. In North America, two flying squirrel subspecies are listed as endangered because of the loss of their habitat. However, in most areas of the world, flying squirrel populations are stable.