The southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) may be common in our area, but few people have ever seen one since this tiny forest sprite is a creature of the night.
There are two species of flying squirrel in Connecticut. The southern species lives in deciduous and mixed forests of the eastern United States, from southern Maine to northern Florida. The northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) prefers coniferous forests and can be found in Canada, as well as northern and mountainous regions of the U. S. The only area of Connecticut where it resides is in the higher elevations of the northwest corner.
Flying squirrels are our only nocturnal squirrels. They become active at dusk, emerging from a nest in a hollow tree, an old woodpecker hole or a nestbox. The nest is lined with bark, leaves, moss and feathers. In summer a nest is sometimes built of leaves and twigs on the outside of the tree. And occasionally you may find that flying squirrels have taken up residence in your nice, warm attic.
The southern flying squirrel depends on the forest trees to provide it with sustenance, such as hickory nuts, acorns and beechnuts. Seeds, berries, mushrooms, insects and bird eggs are also eaten. Since it remains active throughout the year, the squirrel will store food for the leaner winter months.
Its soft, silky fur is gray-brown above with white undersides. Large eyes help it to see in the deep darkness of a forest night. But its most amazing characteristic is the loose skin between the front and hind legs that allows it to fly.
Well, not actually fly. The squirrel doesn’t flap these skin folds; it uses them more like a parachute or glider. It spreads its legs wide and glides from the top of a tree to the trunk of another. From a height of 60 feet, a two and a half ounce flying squirrel can glide over 150 feet. By turning its legs and body and using its flattened tail as a rudder, the squirrel easily controls where it will glide and ultimately land. Another cool trick: upon landing it immediately runs up or around the tree trunk to hide from any predator that may have observed its flight.
Unlike our other squirrel species, the flying squirrel is quite gregarious. Groups of these squirrels are known to feed and sleep together and there are reports of over 20 squirrels denning together for the winter. If you hear high-pitched birdlike twittering in the evening, shine a light up into the trees. Perhaps a troupe of flying squirrels is passing through.