Northern Flying Squirrel

This essay was originally published in February, 2007. A thank you to Fred Gralenski, the author, came in today. I think it’s well worth repeating. The email is at the bottom.

Flying Squirrels

by Frederick Gralenski

Flying squirrels are a cute but mysterious critter that we have here in the Quoddy region.  They are quite common, but since their normal hours of business are from dusk to about midnight we don’t see them very often. There are two species of flying squirrels in North America, the Northern Flying squirrel Glaucomys sabrinus, which is the larger of the two species and comes in at a plump 4 ounces (which is about half the weight of our Red Squirrel), and the Southern Flying squirrel Glaucomys volans, which tips the scale at about 2 ½ ounces.  The literature is a little contradictory as to whether we have both species here in the Quoddy region, but we probably just have the Northern Flying squirrel.  The Southern variety prefers a more deciduous habitat, and there is a precarious population being studied in southern Nova Scotia.  There are 25 subspecies of the Northern Flying squirrel, and not all are recognized as such by wildlife biologists.  Around here this squirrel is sometimes called a ‘Night squirrel’; the French Canadians call it ‘Grand Polatouche’; the First Nation call it ‘Assapanick’; but my Passamaquoddy reference book lists only generic squirrel, ‘Mihku’.

Flying squirrels don’t fly, but they are very good at gliding.  On a calm day (night) they can glide about 2 ½ times the distance of their launch, i.e., if they launch from a 50 foot tree they can traverse about 125 feet horizontally.  At the end of their glide they swoop into a stall condition and make a very controlled four point landing, immediately scamper to the other side of the tree then peek around with their big eyes to see if anything saw them.  How they first learn to do this is another one of nature’s mysteries.

Our flying squirrel is the generally accepted subspecies G. s. macrotis.  Its winter survival here (even when we did have winters), is pretty intriguing. There is agreement among references that these flying squirrels are gregarious and during cold temperatures as many as a half dozen may nest together in a cozy pile of ‘Old Man’s Beard’ high up in a spruce tree, or in a hollow tree, or in a woodpecker hole, or birdhouse, or, if tolerated, in our house or barn. There is disagreement among references as to whether or not this critter stores food. If they do store food do they all store food together and all get to share? They are active in temperatures below –20 deg F, but do not hibernate or enter torpor (like their Southern cousins).  Flying squirrels have figured out that if they add fat reserves they glide like a quarter pound of butter, so they stay pretty lean all winter.  And what do they eat?  I have seen them on our birdfeeders and at times they feast on the black oil sunflower seeds and at other times on the suet.  In the wild our flying squirrels will eat just about any type of seed or anything else, but their normal diet consists of a lot of arboreal and subterranean lichens and fungi.  Reportedly Indians would not eat flying squirrels because they ‘ate dirt’.  It has been shown that the spores of some lichens and fungi pass unmodified through the digestive tract of flying squirrels, effectively propagating these organisms that are so necessary to the ecology of the forest.

The breeding season of the Northern Flying squirrel usually begins in late March, and there is only one litter of about three per year that are born in the summer. Timid and among the most docile of  mammals that we have here, some writers state that the flying squirrel won’t bite if handled.  Don’t bet on it.  Each animal has his own personality, and there are some that may not bite.  I cringe when I see an episode in the allegedly educational nature cartoon ‘Mark Trail’ where some character calmly carries an injured wild beaver under his arm, petting it while he brings it to the vet. That’s probably good fodder for some dreamer in Brooklyn, but I hope our local folk, who are more likely to find a compromised wild animal, know better.

Thanks from PC in Norway, Maine

Many thanks to Fred Gralenski for his piece about Flying Squirrels!  I just had the prifilege of rescuing one who was trapped in a corner in the house by my cat.  I AM a local Mainer, so know to protect myself from possible defensive gestures.  After herding it into a plastic bucket, I wrapped the whole thing in a bath towel and carried it into my woods to release it.  I only saw glimpses of cute face a couple of times, but did notice the big eyes–it was either a baby or something I hadn’t seen before in all my years in the woods of Maine.  I carried it to the stone wall a bit of a distance away so that it would have plenty of places to hide.  When I uncovered it, it fled to a young tree and scurried up so fast I couldn’t get a good look.  It did just as you said: near the tiny top of this tree I could just see the paws and claws, a small, tapered tail, and edges of it’s underside–the rest was hidden on the far side.  Eventually it scrambled up a bit higher, launched itself, and soared a great distance to another patch of trees.  I saw it sailing gracefully against the blue sky for several seconds–a treat I’ll never forget.  Your informative article was the first I found, and I am grateful for that!  It’s the very first encounter I’ve had with one of these beautiful, shy animals.

PC
Norway, Maine

Comments

  1. I have been having a lot of trouble with red squirrels and Raccoons for about three months at my house. I’ve lived here for about twenty years on fifty acres of wood land and up until now I haven’t seen any squirrels nor Raccoons, none at all. One day I noticed my garbage was all over my front deck and the wind was carrying it all over my yard. Or so I thought it was the wind. It took a few weeks but I finally figured out it was the critters and my garbage was their diner table. I tried to trap the Raccoon but after many failed attempts I figured out why. The coon was so big he barely fit in the trap and I was using the big one. He would force his way in and eat the bait. When he was done he was able to just back
    out of the trap because his back end would hold the door open and he had no trouble getting out. After I found my garbage can out in the front yard and the garbage strewn all over again I had to just do away with him. That was a project in it’s self. After a number of attempts using a 22 rifle with a scope at night time I got smart and used the 20 gauge at 2:00 A.M. It was nice not to have to clean up the garbage everyday. But that was short lived when a little red squirrel was taking over for the coon. I tried to just let him go and do nothing but things just got out of hand agin. I tried to catch him but he didn’t want anything to do with the trap. So again I had to put an end to it. Instead of the 22 or 20 gauge I only needed the BB gun thins time. Well my one little red squirrel turned into 14 little red squirrels all of which I had to be eliminated the same way.. The fifteenth squirrel was a little smaller, whiter, and a lot less afraid of us. I was able to just walk out on the deck and shoot. He went down instantly. I waited a few minutes before I went to pick it up and dispose of it. When I got a little closer I noticed a difference in it’s color and size. After I examined it I figured out it wasn’t a red squirrel at all. It was a flying squirrel. Never having had seen a flying squirrel before this event I started feeling awfully bad I shot it at all. I then started thinking maybe they are protected squirrels or something like that, I had no idea especially never seeing one before I had no idea. So I called our local game warden and asked about them. He assured me I hadn’t done anything illegal. I hope I never run into one of them again especially i my garbage. No matter what the flying squirrel is a very cute little critter and it’s fur is extremely soft and full of bugs.

  2. Just a quick note as i found the info searching around for info on these little guys. We had found 2 of them in the house as they were coming down our chimney here in southern Maine. One was sitting in my shoe when I walked over to put it on I almost jumped through the ceiling 🙂 freaked me out. My son and I captured it and released outside. Another dropped down out of wood stove and that one was a little harder to catch as he jumped all over the house. We knew we had them in the house and I hoped we could co-habitate with them. We started hearing them in the walls this winter and it sounded like they were throughout the entire house 🙁 John
    It came to a head when they finally chewed an electrical wire and shorted out all the power to my laundry room 🙁 I ended up cutting a hole in the ceiling of a closet and started traping them. Not alot of room for have a heart traps and even though I feel bad, they are cute little guys. We have been forced to remove them with rat snap traps. We continue to catch at least one every night.
    So my point is they are cute but can infest a place and cause serious damage to your home. After talking to a pest control friend we said they can chew major holes in your house, insulation, wires and leave a mess of feces everywhere.
    If you are hearing them in your walls and ceilings ACT and get them out ! He told me he had a customer that was infested with them and removed 26 squirrels from his home !!

  3. Herman E. Archer says:

    I was surprised to see a Flying Squirrel in our Have-A-Heart” live trap which we use to relocate dozens of Red Squirrels per year.
    The trap was set in the garage 8″ off the floor to discourage the Voles from robbing the bait. Often seen here when we had bird feeders. Herman & Susan Archer, Crystal, Me.

  4. I have a Northern flying squirrel in my garden this morning. The dog had it cornered and the little thing would not back down. I had never seen such big eyes and identified it online.The squirrel got in between the cememt siding and the brick of the house and stayed there for many hours.I pulled him out,the dog was digging the wall apart. And do they ever bite hard!Caribou Maine

  5. Vicki White says:

    Hi our cat who is a great hunter brought one into the house thru her “cat door” which lets her come and go as she needs. She had been bringing in chipmunks and mice but I knew this was a very different animal- it jumped alot more up the walls and such- we managed to trap it and release it back out but I thought her bringing us a rabbit last summer was the top until this critter!!! Very cute too. Searsport Maine

  6. See my first post . Eventually , 2 small flying squirrels lost to spring type mousetraps , finally had to tear all sheetrock and insulation out of the activity area . Dustin , my helper was on top of a ladder at the peak when he felt something fall on his shoulder . Moments passed and when he looked down there was the last of them sitting on his shoulder ; Dustin spooked which sent the squirrel to the floor , seeking refuge under the woodpile next to the fireplace . after a short chase , squirrel ended up outside on the railing ; when my other helper tried to grab him squirrel glided across the driveway and grabbed a tree . I felt a small tinge of regret for the little guy because we both knew the eviction was final .. cute little bugger tho …. john

  7. My husband and I recently moved into his grandparents old house in Westbrook, they moved to a smaller home, and they had been making sure a certain bird feeder in the yard was always full at dusk for the flying squirrels. We had seen them there ourselves when we would visit in the evening, but last night I was able to sit almost under the feeder and watch the braver of the two hang off the feeder and eat the black oil sunflower seeds. We of course have continued the tradition of feeding them now that we live there. One of them will let you get very close as long as you don’t try to reach out at him/her, but the other is more timid. They have been coming to that feeder pretty much every night for over a year now. I was able to get some great pictures of the one that let me get close. I grew up in rural Maine and have always heard them at night but had never actually seen one until they started coming to my husband’s grandparents house. One of them glided across our yard last night to the tree that is next to the feeder and he/she came from probably a goof 50-60 feet away. It was pretty awesome!

  8. john jorgensen says:

    After hearing noise between my living room walls and sweeping up piles of shredded insulation on the floor , thinking it was mice , set a trap with peanut butter and that same evening caught a small flying squirrel . 2 days passed with my regrets that I hadn’t used a havaheart and another pile of insulation showed up beneath the door , with the same rustling about noises inside the walls . Will try again w humane trap and post results soon . Interesting and enjoyable site ; thanks . John , South Bristol

  9. Dona Sickels says:

    I’ve lived in Maine my whole life (I’m 49) and I had never seen a flying squirrel until today! I was out for a walk in the woods near my home with my two dogs and out of the corner of my eye I saw what I initially thought was a bird flying from one higher tree to another lower one. When I looked more closely I realized it was indeed NOT a bird but what looked like a squirrel. It was smaller and its tail not as fluffy. As I stood looking at it, another one ‘flew’ from the same spot to a different tree and this time I saw it’s skin flaps (?) and was so excited to realize it was a flying squirrel! Thank you for your info on them. It was interesting and validating!

    • You’re right Dona, it is skin. Aren’t they interesting little creatures! I watch one at my bird feeding station when I’m working at night. If I leave the shed light on there’s enough light on the feeding station to see without keeping it from coming to eat.

      Robin

  10. I just saw a flying squirrel. Out side my living room door. It was getting bird seed of the edge of the frame. It scared me to dead. I opend a window and saw it’s reflection on the snow on the ground. From the light I put on. It then flew toward the trees. I looked up “Northern Flying Squirrel”. I thought it was a bat or a rat. Know I now what it is. I believe I was one in our carport on the lip of a wall. About 6 weeks ago. So, now I believe they are living in the car port. If you would liKe to come and get them contact me on this page. Thank you, Liz From the Town of Washington Me.Western part of Knox County. Jan.16,2012 @10:30 P.M.

    • I haven’t had them cause damage to my house like a red or gray squirrel tends to. It must have been an interesting week with one in the house!

  11. I’m glad it was helpful!

    Robin

  12. I believe I released a flying squirrel this morning which had been a resident in my downstairs for about a week. I’m glad it is gone and sure it is even more delighted! Thanks for the information.