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When Squirrels Fly

We've all heard of the elusive flying squirrel, but...can squirrels really fly?

Well, the answer is: yes and no. Not true flyers, these members of the rodent family, are excellent gliders. The scientific name of the Southern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomys volans, translates to “flying gray mouse”. Their special adaptation of patagium is what allows them to do their gliding from branch to branch. 

Image from Wikipedia

 

These patagia are membranes that stretch between fore & hind legs making a wing-like structure, which can be found throughout the animal kingdom in diverse species. Did you know there are gliders in many types of animals including reptiles, mammals, frogs, ants, fish and even squids?  This is an example of an analogous structure, or one that has developed independently in different not-closely related species.

Above image from nature.org

 

Evictions, Hoarding and Late Nights

The flying squirrel has this specialized structure to allow for a life history connected with life in the forest.   Flying squirrels nest in forks of limbed trees using plant materials and overwinter in close knit groups of up to 10; they bundle up together sharing body heat to survive freezing temperatures. They often use nest cavities created by other animals, and may even evict woodpeckers from these tree homes! Like other members of the Sciuridae, flying squirrels are hoarders; meaning they spend the fall finding and storing food to keep their families fed throughout the cold winter months. Squirrels do not truly hibernate but may become dormant for long periods during extreme cold. They venture out to find food which they have hidden in caches. 

It’s hard to catch a flying squirrel in action because they are nocturnal, so unless you too like to stay up all night, you might never glimpse one of these beautiful animals.  That’s one of the reasons we are so excited that Second Chances Wildlife is bringing their flying squirrels to our Squirrel Appreciation Day Celebration again this year!  

We will be celebrating "all things squirrelly" on January 19th, from 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM, so come by to test your squirrel hunting skills and investigate some of the cool adaptations that make squirrels so successful in our urban forest.  

Click here to learn more and to RSVP. 

If you can't join us on January 19th, click here to watch a cool video about flying squirrels from CTnaturalist.org

 

Sources: 

More information on the convergent evolution and the flying squirrel:

http://www.kentuckyawake.org/Southern_Flying_Squirrel

http://www.mapoflife.org/topics/topic_343_gliding-mammals/

https://online.science.psu.edu/biol011_sandbox_7239/node/7328

About the Author

Picture of Hannah Graham

Hannah Graham

Hannah joined the 21st Century Parks in 2013 as an Interpretive Ranger, responsible for creating and delivering interpretive programs to the public. As a native Kentuckian, Hannah has a passion for educating herself and others about Kentucky’s complex ecosystem. Hannah is a graduate of the University of Louisville where she studied Biology and English. Hannah in currently enrolled in continuing studies at U of L and has just completed an Ichthyology course. In her free time she enjoys long walks in the woods with her husband and her dog.

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