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southern flying squirrel

Glaucomys volans

What do they look like?

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.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    65.4 g
    2.30 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    21.2 to 25.7 cm
    8.35 to 10.12 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.414 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

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.

What kind of habitat do they need?

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.

How do they reproduce?

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.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Southern flying squirrels breed twice each year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from January to April and from June to August.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
    2-3
  • Average number of offspring
    4
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    40 days
  • Average gestation period
    40 days
    AnAge
  • Average time to independence
    120 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 (low) months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    12 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    12 months

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.

How long do they live?

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.

How do they behave?

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.

Home Range

How do they communicate with each other?

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.

What do they eat?

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.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • fungus

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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.

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Flying squirrels disperse the seeds of hardwood trees and the spores of fungi.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

Flying squirrels are sometimes pests when they make nests in houses.

How do they interact with us?

Flying squirrels play important ecosystem roles in hardwood forests. They are also sometimes kept as pets.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • pet trade

Are they endangered?

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.

Some more information...

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.

Glossary

Nearctic

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.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

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.

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

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.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

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.

endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

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'.

hibernation

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.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

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).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

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).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

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

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

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.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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. "Glaucomys volans" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 21, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Glaucomys_volans/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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