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Friends of the Wild Flower Garden


Flying Squirrels, Our Hidden Neighbors

by Colin Bartol


Minnesotans share our land with many extraordinary animals such as brilliantly colored wood ducks, carnivorous sundew plants, and brown bats that hibernate just above freezing. One incredible animal is often ignored because it is infrequently seen: the northern flying squirrel. 

  flying Squirrel

The only mammals which can truly fly are bats, but a few animals, like lemurs and flying squirrels, can glide. In North America the only gliding mammals are flying squirrels. Both the northern and southern flying squirrel’s territory covers much of Minnesota including the Twin Cities. Strictly nocturnal, flying squirrels are rarely spotted, and at only 10 to 15 inches long they are smaller than a red squirrel.  Their diet consists mostly of fungi, insects, tree sap, and bird eggs, but they will eat carrion when available.

Gliding is what really separates them from other squirrels. Commonly they start with a running jump, and once in the air they spread out their arms and legs into an X shape and the fold of skin between their arms and legs forms a sail. Most flights are between 15 and 75 feet, but some have been observed to be 150 feet. As they come into land, they point all their limbs forward to create a parachute effect.

Recently it was discovered by professor Jon Martin in Wisconsin that under ultraviolet light their fur glows pink. In mammals fluorescence is only also known in American opossums.

While it is not known what benefits that this might have for the squirrels, it is speculated it might help them locate each other.

Although the Garden would be the right habitat for flying squirrels, the naturalists have not observed them. This is likely due to the Garden having only  daytime hours and the squirrel being nocturnal. Some people have success with putting common squirrel food in feeders late at night to lure them out.

Flying Squirrel flying

If you are out for a walk late at night keep your eyes open and up in the trees. If you see something that looks like a bird, keep watching! You might get to see what few Minnesotans have seen: our wonderful flying squirrel.

Although the Garden would be the right habitat for flying squirrels, the naturalists have not observed them. This is likely due to the Garden having only  daytime hours and the squirrel being nocturnal. Some people have success with putting common squirrel food in feeders late at night to lure them out.

If you are out for a walk late at night keep your eyes open and up in the trees. If you see something that looks like a bird, keep watching! You might get to see what few Minnesotans have seen: our wonderful flying squirrel.

Photos: Squirrel on tree, by Tony Campbell. Squirrel flying by Nature Smart Images.

 

Colin Bartol is a Friends board member and editor of The Fringed Gentian™
This article was originally published in The Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 68 No.3, Fall 2020.