SciSun: Infrequent Flyers   Leave a comment

We all know birds can fly, and mammals can’t. But what about Penguins – they’re birds, and they can’t fly. And Bats are mammals that fly so well they can flutter and swoop in complete darkness. So maybe there are other animals that don’t fit the stereotype, too – like this little guy, the Flying Squirrel! (Glaucomys sabrinus and Glaucomys volans). These are the Northern Flying Squirrel (sabrinus); and the Southern Flying Squirrel (volans).  Actually, there are many other types of flying squirrels around the world– almost four dozen – but these two are the only members of the family that live in North America. You’d think the Southern type would live in the South, and the Northern in the North – but actually, the Southern live in the Central and Eastern US, while the Northern can be found in the far North, and West. Both prefer dense, deep forests with tall trees….because, they don’t actually fly like a bird or a bat; the squirrels are very skilled at gliding, by climbing high on a tree branch, jumping off, and spreading their arms wide! (Editor Note: Do NOT try this at home! These squirrels are trained professionals!).

Flying squirrels have an area of skin, called the patagium, that stretches between their wrists and legs, almost like a furry built-in para-sail. By simply moving their arms and legs (and with help from their slightly flattened, furry tail) as they fly glide between trees they can soar for almost 300 feet, steering to avoid obstacles, even flying upward at times, and gently landing at just the spot they wanted. All without making any sound – without even feathers to rustle because they don’t flap their wings like a bird, but just sail on the wind. It sounds like a good life, but then we realize a flying squirrel is often flying to avoid his main predator, the Owl. In nature, there’s always a reason to every behavior.

The Northern and Southern are both about the same size – a foot or so long; are of similar grey/brown/reddish color (although the Southern is a bit lighter); and have similar behaviors, including a nocturnal lifestyle- being most active at night. In fact, their eyes are VERY large, for better night vision, much larger than they eyes of a ‘typical’ tree squirrel. Both flyers are secretive, living deep in the forest and seldom making themselves seen or heard. They would make formidable Ninja candidates, however it is believed they have dedicated their lives to peace. And nuts. 

 

Flying Squirrel Northern

This photo is perfectly focused. To provide a sense of motion, we prefer to call it 'Speed Blur'.

 

Check out more on Flying Squirrels!

http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=105

http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=106

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-32998–,00.html

Posted March 11, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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