The southern flying squirrel is a small, grayish-brown mammal that is found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in hardwood forests and areas with lots of deciduous trees.
The southern flying squirrel has soft, grayish-brown fur and a white belly. Its large eyes have dark rings around them, and it has prominent ears and whiskers. A fold of loose skin called a patagium stretches from its ankle to its wrist. Its broad, flattened tail is covered in fur. Southern flying squirrels grow to about 9 to 10 inches in length and weigh about 2 to 4 ounces.
Southern flying squirrels are found in hardwood forests and areas with lots of deciduous trees, particularly oaks, beeches, maples and hickories. Their nests are typically made in natural cavities or old woodpecker holes about 15 to 20 feet high in a tree, though they occasionally build a summer leaf nest. They do not hibernate during winter, but form a common nest to share with a group of 10 to 20 flying squirrels to keep warm.
Found throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. Flying squirrels stay within a home range of 1 to 5 acres. Males’ home ranges will overlap with one another, while females’ ranges do not overlap.
These squirrels mainly feed on nuts and acorns, especially those from hickory trees. They also eat berries, seeds, flowers, mushrooms, insects, bird eggs and dead mice. Each autumn, they may store up to 15,000 nuts to eat during winter, which they store underground or in tree cavities and crevices.
Hawks, owls, domestic cats, snakes, raccoons, weasels and red foxes may prey upon flying squirrels, who avoid predators by staying alert, being nocturnal and quickly running or gliding away from danger.
The southern flying squirrel does not actually “fly,” but glides by extending its legs to stretch out its fold of skin like a parachute. It usually glides about 20 to 30 feet, but has been recorded gliding up to 240 feet. Very agile, it steers around branches and other obstacles by using its tail as a rudder.
These squirrels produce vocalizations, including a high-pitched tseet and other chirping sounds. Vocalizations are sometimes above the frequency range of the human ear. Some scientists think that flying squirrels may use their vocalizations for echolocation.
Adults mate twice per year: once in February to March and again in late May to July. Females can produce two litters of 2 to 4 young each year if conditions are good. Gestation lasts 40 days. Males do not care for their young and typically leave before the litter is born. Young are born naked and helpless. Their ears open after 2-6 days, they begin to develop fur within a week and their eyes open after about four weeks. Young are weaned at 6 to 8 weeks and able to glide soon after that. Young typically remain with their mother for about four months or until the next litter is born and reach sexual maturity in one year. Southern flying squirrels can reach 5 to 6 years old in the wild, but most probably die within their first year.