Secretive Southern Flying Squirrels
Image © Joshua Mayer via Wikimedia Commons
You may never see one, but southern flying squirrels inhabit most of our oak-hickory woodlands. These chipmunk-sized creatures are strictly nocturnal (only active at night) and typically hang out in treetops, making it difficult to see them.
Despite its name, the southern flying squirrel does not actually fly. It uses a membrane of loose skin called a patagium along each side of its body to glide, typically at a downward angle of 30 ‒ 50 degrees for a distance of 20 ‒ 30 feet (the farthest distance recorded is 150 feet!). While gliding, these squirrels can maneuver in the air, twisting and turning at 90-degree angles to avoid branches and avian predators such as owls. Southern flying squirrels also have extremely large eyes that aid their vision in low light. Tiny whiskers called vibrissae on their cheeks, chin and ankles, as well as their ultrasonic sounds help them navigate and find good landing spots at night.
The southern flying squirrel’s diet consists of seeds, nuts and fruits; they also consume insects, bird eggs and occasionally animal carcasses. If you’re lucky and live in a heavily wooded area, you might see a flying squirrel visiting your bird feeder at night.
Southern flying squirrels are highly social mammals and may fly and forage in large groups. They also will snuggle up together in dens, especially as fall and winter temperatures move in, to conserve energy.
Image © Bluedustmite at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons