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Flying squirrels are amazing mammals that actually don’t fly. They glide. But they can glide for long stretches. We rarely see these nocturnal creatures unless we know where to look for them. The 43 species of flying squirrel come in an impressive range of sizes, colors and locations. Learning where flying squirrels live is an important step in understanding these fascinating creatures. Except for their name, flying squirrels bear little resemblance to the more familiar tree squirrels we are accustomed to seeing in parks and even in our own backyards.
Where Do Flying Squirrels Live?
Flying squirrels are found in Europe, Asia and North America and South America. Only three of the 43 known species of flying squirrels are found in North America with 40 identified in locations throughout Asia. Some flying squirrels have been traced back as far as 120 million years and others have been traced to the Oligocene epoch of the Paleogene Period, from about 34 million to 23 million years ago. As ancient as they are, scientists continue to make new discoveries about them.
How Do These Squirrels Fly?
Flying squirrels glide from tree top to tree top or from a high limb to a lower. They do not have wings, but they do have the unique body parts of patagia and wrist spurs. The patagia are furry membranes described as being like parachutes The membranes join the squirrels’ front and back limbs. These patagia, or flaps, catch air as the squirrel falls, enabling it to propel itself forward instead of falling to the ground.
Their wrist spurs, cartilage spurs on each wrist, enable them to extend their length, stretching the patagia further than they could do with only their arms. Their feet have thick soft pads that cushion their landing. Since all their movement is in a downward direction, they use their claws to gain a foothold on the tree bark to get back to higher elevations.
Unique Features That Distinguish Flying Squirrels
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Flying squirrels share a common feature that sets them apart from the diurnal tree squirrels. Their eyes are very large and bulging. This gives them a “cute” look like some children’s portraits or like the big eyes of puppies. Their eyes remain extremely large throughout their lives, a feature that helps them navigate at night. These bulging eyes sometimes help people answer the question where do flying squirrels live. These large eyes make it possible for people to spot them, especially using flashlights which can create a reflection.
The flying squirrels also have whiskers which function as feelers to help them find their way at night. They have flat tails which help them balance on branches and give them stability when they are gliding, functioning like a rudder.
Fact One: The Simple Answer Is They Live In Trees
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Despite many differences between the species, flying squirrels throughout the world live in similar habitats. Where do flying squirrels live? Their ideal home is in a tree in a large old growth forest. They like to nest in holes in tall trees, like the kind made by woodpeckers. They eat a diverse diet of slugs, bugs, snails, mice, eggs, small birds, mushrooms, berries, seeds, nuts, tree bark, and flowers. They will spend much of their lives at the tops of the tall trees in a forest, gliding from tree to tree in search of food.
Although there are many species and substantial populations in many of those species, these animals are not well known because they live most of their lives in the treetops of forests or tree groves. They only venture out at night. Common predators are coyotes, fox, raccoons, birds, snakes, birds including some owls, and cats and dogs. Their nighttime movement helps them elude these predators, but it also means that people are much less likely to see them and be able to observe their fascinating movements.
Fact Two: They Keep Each Other Warm In Winter
Flying squirrels develop very slowly as babies and live with their mothers in the nest as long as four months. To protect her brood, which can be as large as seven babies, the mother often will find and occupy several nesting spots so she has a place ready in case predators or bad weather make a quick move necessary.
These animals do not hibernate, but they do have a strategy for keeping warm throughout a cold winter. They are social creatures and will live together in one hole in a tree, establishing a community of flying squirrels snuggling throughout the winter. As many as 20 animals may live in a single nest. They will even share nesting space with other nocturnal creatures including bats and owls to keep warm.
Fact Three: When One Doors Closes, Another Opens
The kind of old-growth, primordial forests favored by flying squirrels are threatened all over the world by development projects that cut down the tall trees where they nest. But these flying squirrels are resourceful creatures who find new locations when their homes are torn down. Many suburban areas have established tall trees that attract them. From these trees, it is an easy step to the attics of nearby homes and other buildings. This is a common phenomenon in areas where habitats have been lost, especially in colder climates. Once established in a warm attic, the flying squirrels are not likely to move out on their own and can become quite a problem for the property owner.
Fact Four: Three Species Live In North America
Only three species of flying squirrel live in North and South America but they reside in all kinds of climates from Honduras to Alaska. These are the northern, southern and Humboldt’s species. The northern flying squirrels are found throughout North America in all kinds of wooded areas. The North American flying squirrels typically are about 11″ in length and can glide as far as 65′ at a time. Since their motion is that of a glider, they do not ascend but move in a downward direction to lower branches of nearby trees.
Fluorescent Effect Discovered In American Flying Squirrels
American flying squirrels fluoresce at night, giving off a pink glow which is stronger on their undersides. The discovery of this fluorescent effect was made by a forestry professor hiking in the woods. When he shone his flashlight on a flying squirrel, he discovered this phenomenon. Further studies determined that this is a trait common to the American flying squirrels. Speculation about the function of the fluorescence includes possible communication between the squirrels, help in avoiding predators or help in navigating in snowy or icy terrain. This trait helps people who are looking to learn where do flying squirrels live.
South America Varieties
Among the smallest known flying squirrels are the neotropical pigmy subspecies that lives in the rainforests of South American countries of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Guyana, French Guiana, and Surinam.
Fact Five: 90% Of The World’s Flying Squirrels Call Asia Home
The largest variety of flying squirrels are found throughout Asia where 40 species and numerous subspecies make their homes. Some of the Asian flying squirrels are very colorful. Some are as large as 36 inches in length and weigh as much as four pounds. The largest flying squirrels can glide as far as 250 feet in a single glide. The longest recorded glide is 300 feet. But most glides are in the range of 20 to 30 feet. Because flying squirrels are nocturnal, they are seldom observed making these dramatic flights.
Many of the Asian species are much larger than the species found in other parts of the world. Flying squirrels are not considered endangered, although some subspecies have been identified as threatened because of their small numbers. Some of the largest Asian squirrels are in that category. Because of the challenge of finding and studying this unique animal, new discoveries continue to be made about their population and subspecies thought to be extinct are sometimes discovered in remote locations.
Where Do Flying Squirrels Live?
Seeing Them Is One Way To Find Their Location
Flying squirrels can be found throughout much of the world and much of North America. Even though their numbers are strong, they are not easy to spot. Once you know where flying squirrels live in your area, it may become easier to spot them. They tend to stay in their neighborhood until something happens to their home. Their nighttime patterns are rituals that can be followed. Their bulging eyes sometimes help people to see them. The fluorescent effect is another indicator. Hikers using flashlights have had success in spotting flying squirrels.
Recognizing Their Sounds Is Another Way To Find Where Do Flying Squirrels Live
Flying squirrels are very social animals that produce a variety of sounds that are audible to humans. Their sounds include squawks, snorts and chuckles. Some of their sounds are ultrasounds, audible only to other flying squirrels. Once you have identified the sounds they make, it will be easier to find them again. They remain in their home tree or trees as much as possible, leaving only when they are safe from predators and need to forage for food.