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Southern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomys volans

Southern flying squirrels have large eyes that allow the squirrels to see at night, when they are active. (laszlo-photo/Flickr)
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Southern flying squirrels have large eyes that allow the squirrels to see at night, when they are active. (laszlo-photo/Flickr)

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.

Appearance:

  • Soft, grayish-brown fur
  • White belly
  • Large eyes with dark rings around them
  • Fold of loose skin called a patagium that stretches from the ankle to the wrist
  • Broad, flattened tail that is covered in fur
  • Prominent ears and whiskers
  • Grows to about 9-10 inches long and weighs about 2-4 ounces

Habitat:

  • Found in hardwood forests and areas with lots of deciduous trees, particularly oaks, beeches, maples and hickories
  • Nests are typically made in natural cavities or old woodpecker holes about 15-20 feet high in a tree
  • Occasionally builds a summer leaf nest
  • Does not hibernate during winter, but forms a common nest to share with a group of 10-20 flying squirrels to keep warm

Range:

  • Found throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • Stays within a home range of 1-5 acres. Males’ home ranges will overlap with one another, while females’ ranges do not overlap.

Feeding:

  • Mainly feeds on nuts and acorns, especially those from hickory trees
  • Also eats berries, seeds, flowers, mushrooms, insects, bird eggs and dead mice
  • May store up to 15,000 nuts each autumn to eat during winter. Nuts are stored underground or in tree cavities and crevices

Predators:

  • Hawks, owls, domestic cats, snakes, raccoons, weasels and red foxes may prey upon flying squirrels
  • Avoids predators by staying alert, being nocturnal and quickly running or gliding away from danger

Flight:

  • Does not actually “fly,” but glides by extending its legs to stretch out its fold of skin like a parachute
  • Usually glides about 20-30 feet, but has been recorded gliding up to 240 feet
  • Very agile, steering around branches and other obstacles by using its tail as a rudder

Voice:

  • Produces 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

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Adults mate twice per year: once in February-March and again in late May-July
  • Females can produce two litters of 2-4 young each year if conditions are good
  • Gestationperiod is 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 6-8 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
  • Reaches sexual maturity in one year
  • Can reach 5-6 years old in the wild, but most probably die within their first year

Other Facts:

  • In some areas, southern flying squirrels may outnumber the common gray squirrel
  • Rarely seen by people because it is nocturnal
  • Has excellent senses of smell, vision, hearing and touch, and its large eyes allow it to see at night

Sources and Additional Information:

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