A Furry, Flying Find

by Anna Silvestri | Nov 1, 2023 | 0 comments

southern flying squirrel
Southern flying squirrel. Photo © Tony Campbell/Dreamstime.com.

For several years, my siblings and I have been setting our live trap, curious as to what we might find. Often the peanut butter has only molded, and the birdseed has grown soggy and crumbled away, but on occasion we have actually trapped an animal. Most of our captured critters have been gray squirrels, chipmunks, sparrows, and once—a baby raccoon.

After observing these creatures, we set them free to go scampering or flying off into the wild once more. Of all the animals we have caught, observed, and released, however, we will never forget our most recent and most exciting find.

It was a bright, sunny winter morning, and I was upstairs finishing some chores. Suddenly I heard the front door burst open, excited footsteps pound through the house, and jubilant voices exclaim, “Mom, Mom, guess what we caught!” I hurried downstairs to find my brothers and sisters joyfully clamoring, “We got a flying squirrel in the live trap!”

“Really, a flying squirrel?” I was both excited and a bit doubtful. Did flying squirrels even live in our area? I quickly pulled on boots, thrust my arms into a coat, and ran outside with the rest of the family to meet the new celebrity.

At the base of a small oak tree, close to our garage, in the live trap baited with peanut butter, a small animal was curled up in the corner, cowering. Sure enough, I could tell it was a flying squirrel by its mouse-like face and folds of skin between its front and back legs.

We brought the trap into the garage and covered it with a dark cloth so our tiny captive would not be frightened until we could show him to Dad in the afternoon. We then hurried into the house to begin researching our extraordinary find. What we discovered was greatly interesting.

We learned that Southern flying squirrels are very prevalent here in Ohio where we live. So common, in fact, they are thought to be the most prominent kind of squirrel in the entire state! However, most people never get to see one of these amazing furry fliers, because they are nocturnal and usually live at the very tops of deciduous trees. Not only do Southern flying squirrels live in Ohio, but their territory also stretches from southeastern Canada down to Florida in the United States and west to central Texas and Minnesota.

Flying squirrels don’t really fly. They glide from tree to tree by spreading their front and back legs apart so the fold of skin (called the patagium) acts like a parachute. Most flying squirrels can easily glide an astounding 150 feet (45 m) in one swoop, and also make up to 180° turns. They turn mid-flight by moving their front and back legs closer together or farther apart from each other.

Flying squirrels are tiny things—only 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) long including the tail. They weigh 2 or 3 ounces (56-85 g), less than a stick of butter! God, in His wisdom, designed them to be this small so it is easy for them to glide long distances and flee from predators. If a flying squirrel is being hunted, he will quickly scurry headfirst down the tree trunk, leap into the air, spread his legs apart, and glide away to safety.

Southern flying squirrels are omnivores—they eat both animals and plants. Most feed on seeds, fruits, bark, insects, mice, and nuts. Flying squirrels store food in their nests for the winter. During cold spells they stay in their nests, huddling snugly together with their families to keep warm. Once the weather is warmer, they scurry out of the nest once more to forage and restock the larder.

That afternoon, once we had shown him to Dad, as well as some of our neighbors, we let our flying squirrel go. We carried the trap outside to the oak tree, and the whole family gathered around. One of my brothers cautiously opened the trap’s door, and the squirrel peeked out, wonderingly, with his big black eyes. He paused a moment at the opening. Suddenly, in a flash, he was gone, scampering up the trunk, high into the bare gray branches above. At a fork in the tree he stopped, turned around, and stared down at us for a minute, looking quite perplexed. Then, with a flick of his tail and a blur of gray fur, he scurried into his snug nest.

After all we had learned, we realized just how blessed we had been to catch one of these extraordinary “flying” mammals. Now we know that if big black “squirrely” eyes ever watch us from that nest high in the tree, they belong to a unique kind of squirrel—an amazing Southern flying squirrel!

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