Southern Flying Squirrel
Description and Range
The southern flying squirrel is the smallest tree squirrel in Maryland, coming in at about 9-10 inches long and weighing 2-4 ounces. Southern flying squirrels are a grayish brown in color with a white belly and have a black ring around their large eyes. A furry fold of skin stretches from the wrist of each front leg to the ankle of each rear leg. This fold of skin is also known as a patagium and allows the squirrels to glide from tree to tree.
Southern flying squirrels can be found throughout Maryland as well as throughout the eastern United States, southeastern Canada and parts of Central America. There are as many as 10 sub-species of southern flying squirrels recognized.
Southern flying squirrels are typically found in areas with pine and hardwood trees such as oaks, hickories and walnuts. Flying squirrels make their nests in tree cavities and rely on acorns and nuts as their main food sources.
Southern flying squirrels are mostly granivores- eating a variety of seeds and nuts. Preferred foods include nuts, acorns and seeds as well as lichen and fungi. When acorns and other foods are plentiful, flying squirrels will cache them in locations throughout their home range for later eating in the winter. Occasionally, flying squirrels will also prey upon insects, bird eggs and carrion.
Southern flying squirrels usually make their nests in natural tree cavities or old woodpecker holes, 15-20 feet up a tree. These nests can hold either a single female or a maternal colony of several females and their young. Sometimes, flying squirrels will also build a summer leaf nest.
Flying squirrels mate twice a year- once in February-March and again in June-July. Therefore, some females can have two litters of young per year, averaging about 3-4 young per litter. The baby squirrels are born hairless and helpless after about 40 days of gestation. Five weeks after birth, the young are weaned and can leave the nest soon afterwards.
Southern flying squirrels make a variety of noises, many of which are not audible to people. One noise that people can hear is a loud “tseep” call which is considered to be an alarm or warning call for other squirrels. Flying squirrels also make a “chittering” call as well as a variety of chuckle-like noises.
Though flying squirrels are more abundant than gray squirrels in some areas, they are rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits. Flying squirrels are also arboreal, meaning they spend much of their time in trees. When gliding between trees, flying squirrels use their tails as a rudder.
Female flying squirrels tend to be more territorial than males and will often aggressively defend prime nesting areas. Males, on the other hand, will usually have overlapping territories and sometimes even roost together. During the winter, flying squirrels often nest communally, with up to 19 squirrels sharing the same area to conserve body heat.
To learn more about Maryland’s squirrels and ways to attract them to your yard, then check out the Wild Acres site here.
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