To a lot of people, a flying squirrel is a squirrel that flies. However, that is not the case. Besides the name, a flying squirrel is not capable of flight, – not in the way that a bird or a bat does.
Flying squirrel glides across trees with the help of its parachute-like skin that stretches on either side of the body between its wrists and ankles. This skin is known as “patagium”. Flying squirrels are made up of at least fifty species of squirrels. They are scientifically known as Petauristini or Pteromyini from the family of Sciuridae.
They are not like the average rodent or squirrel because they have the ability to sustain themselves up in the air for several minutes. This is not what the typical rodent can do.
Classification of flying squirrels
There are three species of flying squirrels in North America, and two species live in northern Eurasia. Then, all the other known species are found in the temperate and tropical forests of India and other parts of Asia.
The three species that dominate North American and Central American include Glaucomys sabrinus (northern flying squirrel), Glaucomys Volans (the southern flying squirrel) and Glaucomys oregonensis.
Pteromys Volans (The Siberian flying squirrel) is found in some regions of northern Europe. The Giant flying squirrels (Petaurista) have found to glide of up to 450 metres (almost 1,500 feet). In the north-eastern part of India, The Mechuka, Mishmi Hills, and Mebo giant flying squirrels were recently discovered and are currently preserved.
However, there are also several other types of flying squirrels in other areas of the globe, including the woolly flying squirrel in Pakistan and the pygmy flying squirrel in Malaysia.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Rodentia
- Family: Sciuridae
- Subfamily: Sciurinae
- Tribe: Pteromyini
How do flying squirrels fly?
These creatures do not have feathers for wings as birds do. So how do flying squirrels fly? Actually, they do not fly, but some people like to think that they do. A flying squirrel is able to “fly” because they have what we call “patagium.”
This is due to their furry stretchy skin that they have on either side of their body. This skin helps keep them afloat in the air.
Since the patagium is stretchy, they act like a parachute which helps them glide through trees like they are flying. The long tail of the flying squirrel provides stability while they glide from one spot to another.
When compared anatomically to other squirrels, the flying squirrels are very similar to them, but there are specific differences. These differences are there to suit their respective adaptation to life.
These differences include longer limbs, and shorter distal vertebrae, hand and foot bones. All these anatomical differences allow them to steer and exert control while gliding.
From the height of a tree, the flying squirrel jumps into the air extending their limbs. By just spreading out their limbs, the patagium stretches aiding their flight.
They manipulate their tails and membranes to control their direction and speed. To land, they pull upward and land on their limbs. When there is no need for the patagium, they are drawn close to the body.
Where do flying Squirrels live?
Most flying squirrels live in forests and woodlands. They make their homes in abandoned nests of birds and other squirrels. They also live in woodpecker holes, snags, and nest boxes.
Often, many squirrels will nest together to stay warm during the winter.
What do flying squirrels eat?
Flying squirrels are omnivorous. They eat fruits, nuts, seeds, buds, flowers, leaves, lichens, pollen, insects, gastropods, spiders, fungi, and tree sap.
Southern flying squirrels are regarded as the most carnivorous squirrels because they feed on eggs carrion snakes, and birds. Therefore, we can say that what they eat depends on the kind of species they are.
Flying squirrels are naturally nocturnal while other squirrels are not. They live in cave ledges, grottoes on cliffs, and tree cavities. They make nests, and they are made of shredded bark, mosses, lichens, or leaves.
Most species rarely leave their inhabitant, but the North American flying squirrels fondly leave their inhabitant and descend to the ground to gather and bury nuts.
Life cycles of flying squirrel
The average life expectancy of the flying squirrel is up to six years in the wild. This is due to the presence of predators and diseases in the wild.
While in the zoo, flying squirrels can live up to fifteen years. Flying squirrels are preys to owls, coyotes, feral cats, raccoons, martens, tree snakes, martens, and bobcats.
Flying squirrels are naturally nocturnal, unlike other squirrels. This is because they are not adept to escaping their predators at daytime. Their diet is according to their environment, and they are mostly omnivorous.
The mating season of the flying squirrels is between February and March. This eventually leads to the birthing of new offspring.
New offspring live with their mothers in their nests and are being nurtured and protected by their mothers. Male flying squirrels usually do not join in nurturing their young ones.
The flying squirrel, when born are usually hairless with whiskers. Most of their senses are absent, and their internal organs can be seen through the skin. The sex of the flying squirrel can be identified at this stage.
By the time they become five weeks old, they are almost developed totally. At this stage, their senses are present and active, and they can respond to their environment. They get to start thinking for themselves and learn about their environment.