Flying squirrel | Habitat, Characteristics, Adaptations, & Facts


  • COMMON NAME: Flying squirrels
  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pteromyini
  • TYPE: Mammals
  • DIET: Omnivore
  • AVERAGE LIFE SPAN: Five years
  • SIZE: From three inches to two feet
  • WEIGHT: 3.5 ounces to 5.5 pounds

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Flying Squirrel

Flying Squirrel Adaptations & Facts

Flying squirrels are renowned for their gliding prowess, spanning distances of 150 to 500 feet as they traverse from tree to tree, evading terrestrial threats. Despite their name, they don’t achieve true flight but rather glide through the air. This feat is facilitated by a furry membrane known as the patagium, extending from their wrists to their ankles. When they take a leap from a tree, this membrane forms a square, akin to a hang glider.

These squirrels maneuver mid-air by adjusting their arms, aided by a unique cartilage structure supporting the patagium, a feature absent in other gliding mammals. This enables them to execute agile 180-degree turns to escape aerial predators like owls. Furthermore, coordinating their limb movements allows them to precisely control their descent, landing gracefully on their cushioned paws. Their bushy tails play a crucial role in stabilizing flight, and flipping them upwards acts as a brake mechanism.

Habitat and Distribution

Flying squirrels boast a diverse range, with approximately 50 species scattered across various regions. They inhabit vast territories, spanning from North America, including Central America, to the far reaches of Southeast and Northern Asia, extending into Siberia and Scandinavia. These adaptable creatures carve out their homes in a variety of settings, including woodpecker holes, abandoned bird nests, and tree hollows within forests, woodlands, and jungles.

Physical Characteristics and Feeding Habits

Apart from their unique patagia, flying squirrels bear a resemblance to their terrestrial relatives, sporting small rounded faces, conspicuous ears, and fluffy tails often matching the length of their bodies. Their large eyes aid in nocturnal navigation, while fur coloration and patterns exhibit species-specific variations.

In terms of size, flying squirrels exhibit considerable diversity. For instance, the woolly flying squirrel of Pakistan holds the title of the largest gliding mammal, weighing in at five and a half pounds, while the diminutive Hose’s pygmy flying squirrel from Borneo weighs just a little over three ounces.

Dietary preferences also reflect geographical distinctions. In the Americas, the northern flying squirrel sustains itself on a menu of insects, seeds, nuts, and fungi, whereas its southern counterpart occasionally supplements its diet with eggs or carrion. Conversely, the Indochinese flying squirrel, indigenous to China and parts of Southeast Asia, displays a penchant for cultivated fruits.

Reproductive Behavior and Parental Care

The reproductive patterns among flying squirrels vary, with some species exhibiting a single mating cycle per year, while others, like the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel, engage in two breeding seasons annually. Mating and birthing seasons differ according to the species.

Many flying squirrel species are promiscuous, with both males and females mating with multiple partners. After mating, females undertake the responsibility of caring for the offspring. There’s considerable diversity in the developmental stage of newborns across species; for instance, southern flying squirrels in North and Central America are born blind, hairless, and entirely dependent on maternal care, whereas other species may have more developed offspring at birth.

The duration of parental care and weaning also varies. For example, southern flying squirrels are typically weaned at two months, whereas black flying squirrels in Southeast Asia undergo weaning at four months.

Despite being predominantly solitary, flying squirrels sometimes exhibit communal nesting behaviors, particularly during winter months when they may gather together, often with family members, to maintain warmth.

Conservation Status and Threats

Approximately half of flying squirrel species, including the southern flying squirrel in North and Central America and the Javanese flying squirrel of Southeast Asia, maintain stable populations. However, due to their elusive nature, many species lack sufficient data for comprehensive study.

For those facing declining populations, such as the endangered smoky flying squirrel of Southeast Asia, habitat destruction poses a significant threat. Activities such as logging, wood harvesting, and the expansion of agricultural and residential areas contribute to habitat loss, as reported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Additionally, hunting and trapping activities further endanger species such as Bhutan’s giant flying squirrel and the Northern Chinese flying squirrel.

In specific regions, like Pennsylvania in the United States, northern flying squirrels are classified as endangered. This status stems from a combination of habitat loss due to development and a decline in their primary food source—fungi. The presence of invasive hemlock wooly adelgids has decimated hemlock stands, reducing the availability of fungi essential to the squirrels’ diet.


Why is it called the flying squirrel?

Flying squirrels earned their name due to their remarkable gliding abilities. While they cannot truly fly like birds or bats, they can glide through the air using a membrane called the patagium that stretches between their limbs, allowing them to cover impressive distances between trees.

Is a flying squirrel a real squirrel?

Yes, flying squirrels are indeed real squirrels. They belong to the family Sciuridae, which includes various species of squirrels.

How rare is it to see a flying squirrel?

Flying squirrels are generally nocturnal and elusive, making them less frequently observed compared to their diurnal counterparts. However, in areas where they are abundant and human activity is minimal, sightings can occur, especially during twilight hours.

Is flying squirrel safe?

Flying squirrels are generally harmless to humans and pose no significant threat. They are shy and tend to avoid interactions with humans.

Are flying squirrels cute?

Many people find flying squirrels adorable due to their large eyes, fluffy appearance, and graceful gliding movements. Their cute appearance often makes them popular among wildlife enthusiasts.

Why do flying squirrels glow?

Flying squirrels do not naturally glow. If you’ve heard about them glowing, it might be a reference to bioluminescent fungi, which can sometimes be found in the forests where flying squirrels live. These fungi emit a faint glow, and it’s possible that flying squirrels could encounter them in their natural habitat.

Is flying squirrel still alive?

Yes, flying squirrels are still alive and thriving in various parts of the world. While some species face threats due to habitat destruction and other human activities, many populations are stable.

What do flying squirrels eat?

Flying squirrels have diverse diets depending on their geographical location. They primarily consume insects, seeds, nuts, fruits, fungi, and occasionally eggs or carrion.

How big is a flying squirrel?

Flying squirrels vary in size depending on the species. They typically range from around 8 to 12 inches in length, with their tails adding an additional 3 to 10 inches. Their weight can range from a few ounces to over a pound.

How old are flying squirrels?

The lifespan of flying squirrels varies depending on factors such as species, habitat, and predation. In captivity, they can live up to 10 years or more, while their lifespan in the wild may be shorter due to predation and other environmental factors.

Is a sugar glider a flying squirrel?

No, a sugar glider is not a flying squirrel. Sugar gliders belong to the family Petauridae and are marsupials native to Australia and New Guinea. While both sugar gliders and flying squirrels are capable of gliding through the air, they are not closely related.

What do Japanese dwarf flying squirrels eat?

Japanese dwarf flying squirrels primarily feed on a diet of seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects found in the forests of Japan.

Is a flying squirrel a chipmunk?

No, a flying squirrel is not a chipmunk. While both are rodents and belong to the order Rodentia, they are distinct species. Flying squirrels belong to the family Sciuridae, while chipmunks belong to the family Sciuridae and have different physical characteristics and behaviors.

Where is flying squirrel found in India?

Flying squirrels can be found in various forested regions across India, particularly in the Himalayan foothills and other wooded areas with suitable habitat. They are distributed across different states, including Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam, and Meghalaya.

About Sabrina Tulip

I'm Sabrina Tulip, and I have a deep passion for all things animal world. I'm committed to helping others who loves wild animals. Reach out to me at for gardening advice and tips. Let's make the world a little greener together!

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