Flying Squirrel, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.

11 Intresetgin Facts About Flying Squirrels

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Flying squirrels are amazing little creatures that can glide through the air with the help of a patagium, a furry, parachute-like membrane that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. Here are 11 fascinating facts about these acrobatic rodents.

Introduction

Flying squirrels are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica and there are over 50 species around the world. They are small, nocturnal mammals that use their patagium to glide between trees to find food or escape predators. When seen gliding at night, they have been described as looking like fuzzy airplanes or even baby dragons! Keep reading to learn more intriguing details about flying squirrels.

Intresetgin Facts About Flying Squirrels

  1. Flying squirrels don’t actually fly, they glide. They use a process called patagial gliding. When they jump from a high spot like a tree branch, they spread their limbs out to stretch the patagium which catches the air and allows them to steer and glide down at an angle to another tree.
  2. The patagium works like a parachute. The loose skin and furry membrane between their limbs is called the patagium. It stretches from the squirrel’s wrists to ankles and works like a parachute or hang glider, allowing them to glide long distances between trees.
  3. Their tails help them steer. A flying squirrel’s flat, broad tail works as a rudder, helping them steer and stabilize their glide. They can make quick 90 degree turns in the air by shifting the position of their tail.
  4. They can glide long distances. The current record for longest glide by a flying squirrel is around 295 feet (90 meters). However they usually only glide about 131-164 feet (40-50 meters) at a time. Still, that’s the length of over 5 school buses end-to-end!
  5. Not all tree squirrels can glide. There are over 200 species of tree squirrels, but less than 20% of them are actually capable of gliding through the air. The most common types of flying squirrels are the northern and southern flying squirrels found in North America.
  6. They have excellent night vision. Flying squirrels are nocturnal, active at night and sleeping during the day. They have excellent night vision thanks to a layer of light-reflecting cells beneath their retinas. This helps them see when gliding at night.
  7. They make nests called dreys. Flying squirrels don’t build permanent tree nests. Instead, they construct temporary nests called dreys that are usually near the trunk in the high branches of trees. Dreys provide shelter, safety from predators, and a place to raise young.
  8. Flying squirrels are omnivores. They eat a variety of foods including nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi, insects, eggs, smaller vertebrates like nestling birds or mice, and even carrion. Their diverse diet allows them to adapt to different habitats.
  9. They are prey for owls and hawks. The main predators of flying squirrels are owls and hawks. Their excellent night vision gives owls an advantage when hunting these gliding rodents under the cover of darkness. Hawks hunt during the day if given the chance.
  10. Not all can glide at birth. Southern flying squirrels are one species where the babies (called kittens) can make small glides right after birth. However with northern flying squirrels, the kittens don’t develop enough patagial skin for gliding until around 8 weeks old.
  11. They are considered threatened in some areas. Due to habitat loss in parts of their range, northern flying squirrels are considered threatened in certain states while the Carolina northern flying squirrel is federally listed as endangered. Protecting forests helps conserve populations.

Conclusion

While flying squirrels only glide rather than truly fly, their ability to steer through the air thanks to their unique patagium makes them exceptional among other squirrels. Next time you spot a fuzzy rocket zooming between trees at night, you’ll know a little more about these aerial acrobats! With better understanding, we can help protect rare flying squirrel species that play a role in balancing forest ecosystems.


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