There are two species of flying squirrels in Minnesota, the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans), and the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). Flying squirrels do not fly, but glide from one perch to another. Their "flight" is made possible by a fold of skin, a membrane which extends from the front to the hind feet. When the legs are outstretched, the skin stretches out tautly to form a large planing surface which enables the squirrel to glide as far as 150 feet, though most glides are between 20 and 30 feet.
General description: The southern flying squirrel is about the size of a chipmunk, and the northern flying squirrel is slightly larger. Flying squirrels are noted for their dense fur, glossy olive-brown above and white below, large brown eyes, and mild disposition. Only the shrews and moles have fur that comes close in softness and silkiness to that of flying squirrels.
Length: The southern sub-species is about nine inches long, while the northern sub-species measures almost 11 inches, including the wide flattened tail which is nearly half as long as the flying squirrel.
Weight: The southern and northern flying squirrels weigh two and three ounces, respectively.
Color: The upper parts are gray-brown, whereas all the lower parts including the tail are white.
Females of both species mate in early spring, and about five weeks later, give birth to three to five tiny, blind young. Southern flying squirrels may have two litters in summer, but this rarely occurs in northern flying squirrel females.
Flying squirrels eat a variety of fruits and nuts, insects, small birds, and meat scraps. Flying squirrels are frequent visitors at bird feeders, and some people have lights at the feeders so they can watch the flying squirrel's antics at night.
Small hawks and owls, foxes, weasels, and in northern Minnesota, marten.
Habitat and range
Living in tree hollows or leaf nests, flying squirrels are the only nocturnal squirrels in Minnesota. Seldom will you see them on their tracks. Southern flying squirrels are found mainly in southern Minnesota hardwood forests, while the northern sub-species occurs in northern Minnesota forests.
Population and management
Flying squirrels, though unprotected in Minnesota, have no meat or fur value and thus are not hunted or trapped. Some management occurs when old trees or "snags" with cavities are left in logging operations.
Though seldom seen, flying squirrels are interesting animals. With their loose fold of skin (called a patagium) stretched between all four legs, they are able to glide considerable distances under full control. Many people who think they see birds flying across highways at night actually are seeing flying squirrels. Flying squirrels do not hibernate, but slow their body activity in winter and sometimes nest in groups to stay warm.