Flying Squirrel Facts | Squirrel Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The 43 species of Flying squirrels are classified into 14 genera. Most of these species are least understood. They are known to make deep holes in trees where they are not able to see whether it is day or night outside. Flying squirrels are almost entirely nocturnal and there is a certain type of circadian clock that serves as a reminder and awakens the squirrel at twilight.

Flying Squirrel Facts

Physical Characteristics

  • Flying squirrels are medium to small-sized rodents and are adapted to living an arboreal life.
  • They have a slender body with a busy tail and are generally considered leggy animals. This long tail makes the size of a flying squirrel even bigger.
  • They are often found gliding with membranes and are able to run along the sides of the body. Giant flying squirrel (Petaurista) is one such species as it can stretch up the neck to the end of its tail.
  • Flying squirrels are recognized by their prominent ears and large protruding eyes.
  • They have fairly soft dense fur. Flying squirrels have varied colored display—ranging from gray, black to brownish under parts. Giant flying squirrel shows much bright colors, from vivid orange to bright yellow.

Read More: Red Squirrel Facts

flying squirrel facts
Flying Squirrel ©www.kimballstock.com

Distribution

  • Flying squirrels are commonly found in the tropical forest of south and Southeast Asia.
  • Fifteen species are native to the island; 11 of them are found in the Indonesian Islands, two to Japan, while the other two to the Philippines.
  • Three flying squirrels species live in the northern temperate regions. Two of these inhabit the Arctic Circle; northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) and Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans).
  • In the New World, only northern flying squirrel and southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) are known to represent the entire group.
  • The southern flying squirrels and the northern flying squirrels are much common in North America but the latter appears to be limited to western and northern North America. The northern squirrel is federally endangered and is found at high elevations. It lives in the eastern Appalachian Mountains.

Habitat

  • Since these squirrels are arboreal they make home in a wide variety of habitats especially wooded or forested regions. They are found in the temperate deciduous forest, tropical rainforest, and the northern boreal forest.
  • A few species also live in the parkland and plantations.
  • Complex-toothed flying squirrel (Trogopterus xanthipes) and woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) feel home at high altitudes on outcrops and rocky cliffs.
  • All flying squirrels are nocturnal and are rarely found on the ground.
  • They nest in deep holes inside the tree or a crevice. Sometimes they construct holes sometimes they occupy holes built by others.
southern flying squirrel
Southern Flying Squirrel Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/bkushner/3184383640/

Behavior

  • Flying squirrels are highly nocturnal and they show a range of social systems.
  • Giant flying squirrels are known to monogamous in that they only live in pairs.
  • Many flying squirrels are territorial rodents but this behavior may not be found in the temperate species.
  • Giant flying squirrels occupy a home range of 12 acres (5 ha) whereas the southern flying squirrel has a range of up to 6 acres (2.5 ha).
  • They spend most of their time in a light-proof nest and would only leave the nest once the light goes off. It’s a sort of rhythmic behavior.
  • They have a unique gliding ability and are known to change direction during mid-flight.
  • The giant flying squirrel usually glides up to 1,475 ft (450 m).
  • Most flying squirrels are docile in nature as they seldom bite when handled.
  • They have several different vocalizations such as bird-like trills, loud high-pitched sounds, and soft twittering calls.

Feeding Ecology and Diet

  • Flying squirrels mainly feed on a variety of animal and plant matter. Flying squirrels living in the tropical regions are primarily herbivorous; few others are known to consume young shoots and fruits.
  • Squirrels in the temperate regions are likely to eat some fruits, seeds, animal matter, and fungi.
  • Smaller tropical species are carnivorous as they feed on spiders, insects, and small vertebrates.
  • The montane woolly flying squirrel primarily consumes lichens and mosses on rocks and conifer needles.
  • They glide large distances in search of seasonal fruits and tender growing leaves.
  • Some species show significant variation in their diet, making use of their food resources as they become available.

Reproductive Biology

  • Flying squirrels have least known breeding biology.
  • The temperate species have a fairly short summer breeding season. The tropical species breed all throughout season.
  • The female squirrel averages one litter each year while Glaucomys have two litters.
  • Many species give birth to one or two infants. The southern flying squirrel can produce as many as seven young.
  • These infants are quite small at birth but there is one genus that produces naked or blind infants. Dwarf flying squirrel (Petinomys) usually has large infants but they are not blind. They are able to consume solid foodstuff only one day after their birth.
  • The gestation period lasts 40 days and weaning takes place at eight weeks of age. The young squirrels are going to stay with their mother if the second litter is not born.

Conservation Status

  • Flying squirrels have got limited range because of excessive degradation and habitat loss.
  • People have also hunted larger species for food purposes. In 2002 IUCN had listed 18 species threatened or Near Threatened—four subspecies are also at risky.

References

Corbet, G. B., and J. E. Hill. The Mammals of the Indomalayan Region: A Systematic Review. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder, eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd ed.Washington, DC: Smithonian Institution Press, 1993.

Gurnell, J. The Natural History of Squirrels. London: Christopher Helm, 1987.

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