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Species Description

Southern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomys volans


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae

Description

The fine, silky fur is gray in color on the back and white on the belly. The tail is gray above and pinkish cinnamon below. Adults range in size from 21 - 25 cm (8.3 - 9.8 in) in total length. The Southern Flying Squirrel has large, black eyes, prominent ears, and a bushy, flattened tail. It has a loose fold of skin that connects the forelimbs to the hindlimbs from wrist to ankle. This fold of skin, called a "patagium," serves as the gliding membrane when the limbs are fully extended.

Life Cycle

The Southern Flying Squirrel has two breeding seasons per year, in January - February and again in June - July. From 2 - 7 naked, blind young are born after a 40 - day gestation period. The nest is lined with shredded bark, grass, moss, or other plant material. It is placed in an abandoned woodpecker cavity or other tree hole, and may be as high as 12.2 m (40 ft) from the ground. By 3 - 4 weeks of age, the young are covered in fur and their eyes and ears are open. At 6 - 8 weeks of age, the young are weaned. At this age they are capable of gliding and begin foraging flights with the female. Sexual maturity is reached at about one year of age.

Natural History

The Southern Flying Squirrel is the only carnivorous member of the squirrel family. It is also the most completely arboreal. In addition to leaping from limb to limb, it travels from tree to tree by leaping into the air from a tree limb. Buoyed by its outstretched gliding membrane, it can soar an average of 6.1 - 9.1 m (20 - 30 ft) to land at the base of the next tree, which it then climbs to repeat the process. Records of glides up to 30.5 m (100 ft) long have been recorded. By movements of the patagium and tail, it can control the direction of its flight and can make turns of 90 to 180 degrees. The Southern Flying Squirrel is very social, and it is not uncommon to find as many as 6 - 7 individuals using the same nest cavity in the winter. They may benefit from the shared body heat. This species is active throughout the year. Its omnivorous diet includes acorns, nuts, berries, fruits, seeds, buds, blossoms, insects, birds, nestlings, eggs and, occasionally, carrion. When foraging for mast (acorn or nut crops), it may run and hop on the ground.

Range

Southern Flying Squirrel Region Map The Southern Flying Squirrel is found across the eastern United States in hardwood and mixed hardwood - pine forests where there are many old trees with natural cavities or woodpecker holes. It is present throughout Georgia.

Conservation Status

It is assumed that populations of this species are stable. It is considered common throughout its range where favorable habitat is found.

Similar Species

The Southern Flying Squirrel can be distinguished from other squirrels in Georgia by its small size, its bushy, flattened tail, and the loose fold of skin that connects its front and back limbs from wrist to ankle. The only other mammal in the United States that has this gliding membrane or looks like the Southern Flying Squirrel is the Northern Flying Squirrel. The Northern Flying Squirrel is found mainly in the forests of northeastern United States and the boreal forests of Canada and the American west. It does not occur in Georgia.