The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 16, 2003


Biodiversity Corner Flying squirrel

Name: This is probably the Southern Flying Squirrel, Glaucomys volans a.k.a. the eastern flying squirrel, the white-furred flying squirrel, the glider squirrel, and my favorite - the fairy diddle. The Northern Flying Squirrel looks the same only a bit larger and darker and I don't have one of each to do a comparison. The Northern variety is usually found at altitudes of 1,000 feet or more so I am assuming this is the Southern one which is found as far north as Nova Scotia. You can identify the species with certainty by close examination of the belly hairs. I didn't get the opportunity. The genus name, Glaucomys, means gray mouse and the species name, volans, means flying.

When and where seen: In my backyard on School Street on April 28, April 30 and again on May 3. The squirrel was living inside a pine stump about eight feet tall. I had pushed on the stump to see how firmly it was rooted. This movement disturbed the squirrel which "flew" out. It glided to the ground and climbed a nearby tree to about 15 feet above the ground. It remained there plastered flat against the tree trunk like a cartoon animal that has run into a wall. I could easily see the gliding membrane which extends from the wrists of the front legs to the ankles of the back legs. Its tail was wide, very flat, and furry but not fluffy.

Description: The back is grayish-brown and the belly is white. The head is very round with a short turned-up nose, long whiskers and large eyes. The males and females look alike and are similar in size about eight to ten inches long and another three to four inches for the tail.

Behavior: Flying squirrels are nocturnal and therefore seldom seen. They sleep during the day in holes in trees. They prefer abandoned woodpecker holes and sometimes nest under eaves and in attics. They don't hibernate but have periods of inactivity during the winter when they may huddle up with several others for warmth and protection. Flying squirrels don't actually fly they glide. They launch themselves by leaping out from the tree with as much strength as possible. They then extend the gliding membrane by keeping the legs outstretched. Using the tail as a rudder and a stabilizer, they can maneuver quite skillfully and execute right-angle turns.

The food chain: Flying squirrels eat acorns, black walnuts, hickory nuts, beech nuts, berries and mushrooms as well as moths, beetles, grubs, birds and birds' eggs. They are more carnivorous than other squirrels. They in turn are eaten by cats, foxes, weasels, and great horned owls.

photos by Kay Fairweather

References: Alfred J. Godin, Wild Mammals of New England.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Send a photo, a note about a sighting, or the whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito