Flying squirrels are easily distinguished by the "gliding membrane", a flap of loose skin that extends from wrist to ankle. The loose skin along the side of the body is supported by stiff extensions of the wrists and ankles. The soft fur on the back and tail is grey and the belly is white. The tail is flattened. They are 21 to 26 cm in length with a tail measuring 8 to 12 cm in length.
Southern flying squirrels are found in southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, and south as far as Mexico and Honduras. They have a Nearctic distribution.
Southern flying squirrels are found in woodlands. They prefer seed-producing hardwood trees, such as maple, beech, hickory, oak, and poplar. They are also found in forests with mixed hardwood tree and conifer trees.
Not much is known about mating in southern flying squirrels.
Females usually mate twice per year during the warmer months, from February to September. Populations living farther south give birth to their young earlier in the year than do populations living in the northern parts of the range. Females are pregnant for about 40 days and give birth to 1 to 6 young (usually 2 to 3). Young southern flying squirrels are fully grown by one year old.
Young flying squirrels are born naked and helpless in their mother's nest. Their ears open at 2 to 6 days old, they develop some fur by 7 days old, and their eyes open by their 24th or 30th day of life. Females care for their young in the nest and nurse them for 65 days, which is an unusually long time for an animal of this size. The young become independent by 4 months old unless they are born later in the summer, in which case they usually overwinter as a family.
Southern flying squirrels in the wild can live to 5 or 6 years old. In captivity they have been known to live up to 10 years. Most flying squirrels probably die in their first year of life.
Southern flying squirrels are mainly active at night. They are normally solitary or in family groups, but in the winter in the northern parts of their range they come together in communal nests of 10 to 20 animals. This is probably to keep warm, they huddle and snuggle in large nests. Females are territorial during the breeding season and keep other females out of their area. Flying squirrels live in hollow trees, deserted woodpecker holes, and in buildings and bird boxes. Nests are made of soft materials like shredded bark, dry leaves, moss, feathers and fur.
Flying squirrels do not actually fly, they can only glide. But they can glide quite long distances. They leap from high points, such as the tops of trees, poles, and cliffs, and spread the arms and legs, stretching the loose skin of the body into an efficient sail. As they approach a landing, they raise the tail to change the course of the glide upwards and extend the limbs to use the skin as a parachute. When they land, they quickly move to the other side of the tree to avoid predators that may have detected and followed them during the glide. They are agile in the air, avoiding obstacles like trees and even making sharp turns. From a height of 18 meters they can glide about 50 meters; the maximum glide is about 80 meters.
Not much is known about communication in southern flying squirrels. They have excellent senses of smell, vision, hearing, and touch. They have large eyes which help them to see at night and whiskers on their chin, cheeks, and ankles that they use to help them in detecting their way along tree trunks at night.
Southern flying squirrels are omnivores and eat a wide range of foods, including nuts, acorns, seeds, berries, fruit, moths, junebugs, leaf buds, bark, eggs and young birds, young mice, insects carrion, and fungus. They are especially fond of hickory nuts and acorns; one sure sign of the presence of this species is piles of gnawed hickory nuts at the base of large hickory trees. They will store food for winter use.
Flying squirrels avoid predators by being nocturnal and by being fast and agile in the trees and during their glides. They are alert for predators constantly. The most successful predators on flying squirrels are able to fly, such as hawks and owls, or can climb well, such as domestic cats, bobcats, weasels, raccoons, and climbing snakes.
Flying squirrels disperse the seeds of hardwood trees and the spores of fungi.
Flying squirrels are sometimes pests when they make nests in houses.
Flying squirrels play important ecosystem roles in hardwood forests. They are also sometimes kept as pets.
Some populations of southern flying squirrel in Central America are rare and may be endangered. Throughout most of their range, though, flying squirrels are common.
Southern flying squirrels are often the most common squirrel in hardwood woodlands and suburban areas. Because they are nocturnal and seldom seen, most people don't recognize that they live with flying squirrels.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
animals that have little or no ability to regulate their body temperature, body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of their environment, often referred to as 'cold-blooded'.
the state that some animals enter during winter in which bodily functions slow down, reducing their energy requirements so that they can live through a season with little food.
fertilization takes place within the female's body
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
Baker, R. H. 1983. Michigan Mammals. Michigan State University Press.
Forsyth, A., 1985. Mammals of the Canadian Wild. Camden House Publishing Ltd.: Camden East, Ontario, 351 pp.
Nowak, R. N., 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, MD, 1629 pp.