Summary: The flying squirrel is one of nature's wonderous creatures, but the flying squirrel does not really fly. It should be called the gliding squirrel.
Rocket J. Squirrel of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame was one. Monty Python had a skit about one. It's even been featured in an old school Nintendo game. œLittle Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland for those of you who are uninformed. People once kept them as pets. It was even rumored to have been enlisted by the Justice League for small time superhero work. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about the flying squirrel.
The biggest misconception people have about the flying squirrel is that it flies. It actually does not fly, but rather uses the membrane stretching from its front to its rear legs to glide gracefully from branch to branch. This wing-like fold is called a patagium, and is very similar to the membrane that makes up a bat's wing. It is easy to make the mistake that they can fly however, as they can glide distances of up to 40 meters.
Besides the obvious feature of having what appear to be wings, the flying squirrel also has a flattened tail that it uses for balance and stability while gliding. This tail is generally around eight inches long, nicely complimenting the ten inch average of the body of the squirrel. The flying squirrel's ears are rounded and typically have no ear tuft. It is usually grey with light brown hues on its back, and very light grey or white on its underbelly and the underside of its wings.
Life expectancy is significantly shorter than that of the more common grey and fox squirrels, with the average in the wild being around six years; although in captivity they have been known to live up to fifteen years. Their breeding habits, however, are virtually identical. Like the grey squirrel and the fox squirrel, the flying squirrel will produce a litter twice a year in winter and again in summer, with around 3-5 young, but as many as seven and as few as one, depending on conditions for survival.
Also contrary to its cousins, the flying squirrel is completely nocturnal, and thus is very rarely seen. They will travel around to different dens in hollowed out trees, but while taking residence in one tree, the flying squirrel can travel as far as a mile away from their home and still know exactly where it is. This is based on their excellent sensory abilities, common in many nocturnal animals. The tree of preference for the flying squirrel is generally beech, walnut, or oak, and is often shared with other flying squirrels.
I'll bet you can't guess what it eats. I'll bet you a million dollars. Nope you're wrong! Wait! What's that you said? Fruits and nuts? Well, we didn't shake on that bet or sign anything, so I guess that wager is null and void, huh? Whew! Lucky me! The flying squirrel will also happily munch on small insects and certain flowers, grains and corn if it happens to be available.
So, what happens if you suspect you have a flying squirrel in your house? It's a tricky one, because certain flying squirrel species are endangered. You can run out and buy a few Havahart Small Animal Traps and see if that works, but your best bet on this one might be to consult with a professional over the telephone before you actually get PETA banging down your door.