is found in southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, and south as far as Mexico and Honduras.
Southern flying squirrels are found in woodlands. They seem to prefer seed-producing hardwoods, particularly maple, beech, hickory, oak, and poplar. They are also found in mixed conifer/deciduous forests.
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 cartilaginous spurs on the wrists and ankles. The soft fur on the back and tail is grey with varying amounts of grey tinge; the belly is white. The tail is dorso-ventrally flattened. The eyes are very large, probably related to the nocturnal habits and the visual requirements of gliding. Total length is 21.1 to 25.7 cm and tail length is 7.9 to 12 cm.
Little is known about the mating system in southern flying squirrels. Males and females do not associate much beyond breeding.
Not much is known about mating in southern flying squirrels.
Females are polyestrous and typically mate twice per year. Births thus have two peaks, from February to May and from July to September. There is, however, some geographic variation in the timing of births. (In Michigan, they court and breed in winter and early spring.) The gestation period is 40 days. Litters can range from one to six young, though two or three is most common. The young are weaned at 65 days (an unusually long time for an animal this small) and are independent at 120 days. Maturity is usually attained at twelve months, though ages as young as nine months have been reported.
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.
Activity is primarily nocturnal. Flying squirrels are often seen in pairs, and can be gregarious. During winter, groups of 10 to 20 individuals are sometimes found in dens in hollow trees. Females have been reported to be territorial and to defend nest sites during the mating season. 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 are not true fliers but gliders. They leap from high vantages 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. Upon landing, 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 90 turns. From a height of 18 meters they can glide about 50 meters; maximum glide is about 80 meters.
Home ranges in both sexes range in size from about .5 to about 1.5 hectares. Male ranges overlap; female ranges do not overlap with each other or those of males.
Southern flying squirrels have very large eyes in order to see well in low light. They have keen senses of smell, touch, vision, and hearing. They probably communicate about reproductive condition through chemical cues. Vibrissae on the cheeks, chin, and ankles help them in navigating at night. They are relatively quiet but may use some vocalizations in social communication.
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 consume large numbers of the fruiting bodies of subterranean fungi, dispersing the spores in their feces. The mycelia of these fungi form close associations with the roots of many species of trees and are believed to be essential for tree growth and maintenance. They also disperse the seeds of hardwood trees.
Flying squirrels play important ecosystem roles in hardwood forests. They are also sometimes kept as pets.
Flying squirrels are sometimes pests when they make nests in houses.
Some subspecies in Central America are rare and may be endangered.
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.
David L. Fox (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Michael Mulheisen (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
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. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
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 use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
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.
having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.
the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.
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.
"Animal Life Histories Database" (On-line).
Ruff, S., D. Wilson. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington [D.C.]: Smithsonian Institution Press in association with the American Society of Mammalogists.