We all know of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, but did you know that there are real life flying squirrels in our woods? In Maryland there are two species of flying squirrels: the fairly common Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomus valens,) and the uncommon Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomus sabrinus.) The northern flying squirrel is a bit larger and darker in color than the southern variety. Both squirrels grow to a length of about eight inches, and can weigh about a half of a pound.
Flying squirrels possess a furry, parachute- like membrane called a “patagium” between their front and back legs that they extend to catch air to allow them to glide between trees. Flying squirrels position this membrane and their long shaggy tail to steer through the air and slow down when nearing a landing point. These animals can glide up to 150 feet, if necessary.
Flying squirrels are mostly nocturnal; their large eyes enhance night vision. These small mammals remain active year round. They are very social, and can share dens with up to 25 others, especially during the winter when cohabitation conserves heat. In some cases, these colonies will include both the southern and northern species.
Flying squirrels are omnivores, their diet consisting of lichen, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, plant tissue, insects, and bird eggs. The northern flying squirrel is less carnivorous than the southern species, existing mostly on lichen, fungi, and plant parts. Southern flying squirrels are fairly adaptable, and existing in a variety of habitats. The northern variety prefers red spruce stands or mixed spruce forests. Due to the relative scarcity of red spruce forests in the Mid-Atlantic, the northern flying squirrel is not very common in the lower portion of its range in the Appalachians. The southern flying squirrel can also carry the intestinal parasite, Strongyloides robustus, which it can tolerate, but which kills its northern cousin. For this reason, where these species overlap, the southern variety usually overtakes the northern flying squirrel.
Flying squirrels occur throughout the globe, and there are some giant flying squirrels found in Japan that can grow to a foot or more in length and weigh upwards of 3 pounds.
Article by FCFCDB member
Nature Note for 10/28/2018