Is That a House in a Tree?
What's on the side of that tree? It looks like a mouse. But then, it leaps and "flies" to another tree.
It's a flying squirrel, a most unusual member of the rodent family. Because flying squirrels are nocturnal, you seldom see them. Your best chance is a couple of hours after sunset or before sunrise. These are their most active times.
Despite their name, flying squirrels don't really fly. They spread their side flaps of skin and glide. By loosening and tightening these flaps, they can change direction. Flying squirrels also use their fluffy tails like a rudder to help them steer. Female flying squirrels also use their skin flaps like a built-in blanket to stretch over their young. This keeps them warm.
How far can these squirrels glide? It depends on how high up they are when they start. For every vertical foot up, they can glide 3 feet horizontally. So, if a flying squirrel is on a branch 25 feet up, it can glide 75 feet away from the tree. Flying squirrels glide downward, but they climb back up to spend the day. They often build their nests in tree holes created by other animals, like woodpeckers.
The squirrels' large eyes help them find food in the dark and avoid predators. At night, flying squirrels looks for their favorite foods: seeds, nuts, flower buds, fruits, and insects. Nighttime predators, like owls, foxes, and raccoons, also look for food. This can include flying squirrels.
If you catch a glimpse of a "mouse" in a tree, take a second look. You've done it! You've found the squirrel you seldom see.
by Ellen L. Ramsey