Contrary to its name, the Southern Flying Squirrel doesn’t actually fly. Instead these small tree squirrels are equipped with an extra membrane of skin and muscle called a patagium which extends from the front to the hind legs. To glide through the air, a flying squirrel will climb up to a high point in a tree and catapult itself into the air. As it does this, it will spread its legs out stretching the skin allowing the squirrel to glide forward while safely sailing in a downward direction. The length, direction and speed of its glide are all controlled by how far it stretches out its legs and how it maneuvers the tail which is much like a boat rudder. Typically a flying squirrel will glide up to 30-50 feet at a time. However, if it starts from a high enough point they do have the ability to glide up to three times that distance.
The southern flying squirrel can be found up and down all of eastern United States, from Maine to Florida. They are omnivorous and will eat a variety of food from nuts and insects to baby birds, eggs and will even snack on carrion (dead animals). They must always stay on guard though or else they themselves will become food. The southern flying squirrel is prey for predators such as hawks, owls, raccoons, and snakes.
Baby flyers typically appear twice a year. An average of three to four are born at a time in early spring and again in late summer. Maturity is reached by two years of age. The average life span in the wild is about 5 years.
The preferred nesting sites for these squirrels are tree cavities, wood pecker holes and sometimes even other nests that belong to birds or grey squirrels. Occasionally they may take up residence in a bird house or nest box. They have one primary nest but will maintain several other nests nearby in case they need to evacuate their main nest due to other animals infiltrating their nest or even just because it’s become too dirty.
Because they are nocturnal, small in size, and prefer the safety of staying high up in trees, most people are not even aware that they have these tiny, furry creatures living nearby.
Post written by: Heather Davies, Volunteer
If you happen to find any wildlife in trouble please make sure you report it to a licensed rescue organization like Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. We also ask that you consider making a donation to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife so that we may continue our work to conserve and protect wildlife in the Tampa Bay Area.
A Field Guide To The Wildlife of North America by Bryan Richard; Parragon Publishing 2006
Florida’s Fabulous Mammals by Dr. Jerry Lee Gingerich; World Publications 2013