10 Incredible Flying Squirrel Facts

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: August 13, 2022
© iStock.com/EEI_Tony
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Around 50 different species of flying squirrels are in the Sciuridae squirrel family. A flying squirrel is a relative of gray and fox squirrels. At night, you may overhear a flying squirrel’s screeching calls. Flying squirrels are also only active at night and common in forests.

Flying squirrels live in woodpecker holes and residential birdhouses between 20 – 30 feet high. Peanut butter, sunflower seeds, almonds, and suet attract flying squirrels. Want to learn more about these tiny, adorable creatures? Keep reading to discover 10 incredible flying squirrel facts

1.      90% of flying squirrels are from Asia

Flying Squirrel vs sugar glider
Though it technically glides rather than flies, the flying squirrel can adjust its speed and position.

©Laura Fiorillo/Shutterstock.com

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The three continents with the most natural populations of flying squirrels are Asia, South American, and North America. Forty of the currently identified species of flying squirrels are found in Asia. It is commonly held that large populations of flying squirrels thrived throughout glacial epochs because they were safe in the tall trees provided by the dense forests that existed at the time.

2.      Flying squirrels have special sounds they use to communicate

Flying Squirrel on the ground
Flying squirrels make an extremely high-pitched sound after sundown

©Ken Thomas – Public Domain

Sometimes, the human ear must work hard to hear these squirrels’ noises because they are so high-pitched. They typically make these noises in the first few hours after sundown to advertise their location and perhaps the best places to find food. These cries may occur at much higher frequencies than the human ear can detect.

3.      Flying squirrels don’t hibernate

Flying squirrels hibernate more during winter, spending less time foraging and far more time in their nests. Some of their bodily functions will be slowed down to save energy, but that won’t stop them from going for a stroll outside. While the two species of flying squirrel discovered in the United States do not hibernate, they do like a good snuggle. Although they don’t hibernate, flying squirrels’ metabolism nevertheless drops in the colder months.

4.      Flying squirrels have been around for about 160 million years

Flying Squirrel vs sugar glider
Flying squirrels have been around for millions of years

©Ken Thomas – Public Domain

Flying squirrels are among the earliest mammalian species still in existence today. The ancestors of today’s Flying Squirrels had skin that flapped like wings spreading from their cheeks to their legs/tail, and their fossils are remarkably well preserved.

5.      Flying squirrels have huge eyes for night vision

Because of their nocturnal lifestyle, flying squirrels are rarely seen during the day. Large eyes help many nocturnal species, such as owls and lemurs, see in the dark. The large pupils in their otherwise dark eyes make them a visual delight for human eyes.

6.      Flying squirrels have flaps between their limbs

Flying Squirrel gliding between trees
Flying squirrels look like little parachutes or hang gliders in the sky

©Pratik Jain / Creative Commons

The front and hind legs of flying squirrels are separated by a fluffy membrane that looks like a parachute. These squirrels can avoid crashing into the forest floor by using these flaps to catch air as they fall! Skin flaps connect the legs of these unusual squirrels to the arms and chest. They use this skin as a parachute-like drag mechanism as they launch themselves into the air.

7.      Flying squirrels don’t Actually fly; they glide!

The fact that flying squirrels can cover the equivalent of nearly the distance of a bowling alley while gliding from tree to tree is one of the most fascinating things about them. But when it’s essential, this squirrel can glide as far as 300 feet, which is the equivalent of a football field! Even the biggest red giant flying squirrel can cross these distances!

8.      Flying squirrels glow in the dark

Flying Squirrel gliding from branch
Flying squirrel gives off a UV light at night under their flaps!

©Angie spuc / Creative Commons

Researchers have only recently discovered that flying squirrels give off UV light, and the hues are even brighter and almost a bright pink on their undersides. We have no idea what allows them to do this or what exact purpose it serves. However, it could serve as a means of communication, allow for travel through snowy terrain, or help you escape being ambushed by predators at night.

9.      Flying squirrels have an extra finger

When the squirrels expand their “wings,” the wrist spur on a Flying Squirrel protrudes from the patagia. With this extra finger, they can stretch the patagia even farther than they would with only their little arms, allowing them to catch more air and glide further and more smoothly.

10.   Flying squirrels change direction 180 degrees in midair

Flying Squirrel in a tree
Flying squirrels have incredible skill and can glide in semicircles.

©Bob Cherry – Public Domain

The Flying Squirrel possesses incredible skill and uses its entire body as a rudder to direct its descent. They can make complete 180-degree course corrections and even glide in semicircles simultaneously, thanks to the power of their patagia muscles, which are connected to their powerful limbs and fluffy tail.

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A flying squirrel clings to the side of a tree near a corn feeder on a summer night in eastern Illinois.
© iStock.com/EEI_Tony

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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