Flying Squirrels

Phyllis McMahon
Phyllis McMahon
Research Writer
Phyllis teaches English Literature at a local college and loves writing in her free time. She’s also a great cook – her British beef Wellington is something the best res read more
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Chas Kempf
Chas Kempf
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Chas works in a professional pest control company and knows all the nuances of this job. Also, he’s a fantastic tennis player and loves to organize BBQ parties for his fam read more
Last updated: December 31, 2022
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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Genus: Glaucomys Sabrinus Northern Flying Squirrel
(meaning silver grey mouse, river nymph)
Genus: Glaucomys Volans Southern Flying Squirrel
(meaning grey mouse, flying)

There are two species of the flying squirrel found in North America, the Northern Flying Squirrel and the Southern Flying Squirrel. Both are similar in color, but the southern flying squirrel is the smaller of the two. At a glance the flying squirrel looks like it is ‘flying’, but in reality it glides from branch to branch. A furry membrane, extending between their front and rear legs, allows them to glide through the air between trees. Often leaping from higher points to lower points, they spread their arm and legs which stretches the loose skin acting as a sail. During their glide, they have been known to make sharp 90 degree turns before landing. As they approach the limb they want to land on, the loose skin acts as a parachute slowing them down. Once they land, the flying squirrel moves quickly to the other side of the tree to avoid predators that might have seen them.

The Northern Flying Squirrel is a nocturnal creature found in mixed forests from the Alaskan and Canadian tree line southward to Northern California and Colorado to Central Michigan and Wisconsin and in North Carolina and Tennessee. They are also found in higher elevations of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the Black Hills and the Sierra Nevada. The habitat of the Northern Flying Squirrel is usually near streams and rivers. They build their nests in tree cavities in forests full of wood rot, frost cracking, and left over woodpecker and carpenter ant holes. Nests known as dreys, made of moss twigs and leaves are found close to tree trunk on limbs however, their most common nesting sites are in witches brooms, clumps of abnormal branches caused by tree rust disease. The Northern Flying Squirrel has been known to move out of its tree cavities and into Witches Brooms from November to December in order to sleep in groups to maintain heat. Carolina Flying Squirrel and the Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel are subspecies that are on the endangered species list.
The Northern Flying Squirrel breeds once a year anywhere from March to late June. Females breed with only one male and will stay with that male year after year. Young are born from May to early June, are hairless with their eyes and ears closed and toes fused. Their toes and eyes open around the sixth day, are weaned after two months and leave the nest after three. Female Northern Flying Squirrels are very territorial while males are not. They use scent and touch to communicate with each other.
By eating lichen and fungi, the Northern Flying Squirrel helps in the regeneration of forests through the dispersion of spores by their fecal matter. They also eat berries, nuts seeds and insects, sometimes hording them for winter storage.
Identified by light brown upper body fur, the Northern Flying Squirrel has a white belly, flat tail and large eyes that help them see at night. Unlike the Southern Flying Squirrel, they are very active throughout the year and are seldom seed unless their tree dens are cut down. If driven out of forests, the Northern Flying Squirrel will nest in houses and barns and can be very disruptive due to their nocturnal behavior and the litter from their nests.
Picture of Northern Flying Squirrel

The Southern Flying Squirrel is identified by it grayish brown body, white belly and black ring around its eye that runs along it membrane. Found in deciduous forests usually in oak, hickory and walnut trees from southeastern Canada into the eastern United States and from Mexico to Honduras, this species of squirrel makes its nest in leftover holes made by the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. Tree cavities are lined with leaves, moss, feathers and bark and are used all year round.
More aggressive and dominate than their northern cousins, the Southern Flying Squirrel produces several high pitch sounds used for navigation, communication and mating. Adults breed twice a year usually February to March and May to July. Females breed with different males and after mating the male has nothing to do with the female or the young. Litters produce three to four babies that are hairless and blind and have closed ears until around three weeks old. Their eyes open at four weeks and they are weaned at eight weeks. Young Southern Flying Squirrels remain with their mother until the next litter is born.
Southern Flying Squirrels eat acorns, hickory nuts, seeds, berries, mushrooms, flower blossoms, tree bark and sometimes insects, bird eggs and mice. While eating nuts, they will cut a hole at the end of the nut to eat the insides leaving the shell intact, unlike other tree squirrels that fully crush the nut in order to eat it.
Predators of the Southern Flying Squirrel are owls, cats, hawks, snakes, bobcats, raccoons and foxes. They have been known to carry fleas, ticks, mites and lice.
Picture of Southern Flying Squirrel

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