|Glaucomys volans (Linnaeus)|
Southern Flying Squirrel
Don Linzey & Christy Brecht
Wytheville Community College
Wytheville, Virginia 24382
Last updated: 26 November, 2005
- Adult total length:
8 - 10 1/2 in. (200 - 265 mm)
3 3/8 - 4 1/2 in. (85 - 115 mm)
- Hind foot:
1 1/4 - 1 3/8 in. (30 - 32 mm)
1 1/2 - 3 1/2 oz. (45 - 98 g)
Southern flying squirrels are small tree squirrels with large
eyes and a broad, flattened, well-furred tail. The brownish
dorsal pelage is fine, soft, and dense. The hairs of the
underparts are whitish or cream to their base in contrast to
the hairs of the northern flying squirrel in which the basal
portion of the hair is gray. A loose fold of furred skin
connects the front and hind limbs from the wrists to the ankles.
These squirrels cannot fly. Rather, they glide from a higher
perch to a lower one. In doing so, they spread their legs, thus
drawing taut the loose skin running along each side of the body.
The membranes support the squirrel as it glides in somewhat the
same fashion as a parachute. The tail acts as a rudder. By
varying the tension on their membranes and by altering the
position of their tail, flying squirrels can control their
direction and speed to some extent. They always land in a head-up
position on the trunk of a tree.
left lateral view of
skull and mandible
dorsal view of skull
ventral view of skull
The southern flying squirrel inhabits the forests of the eastern United
States north to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and west to the Great Plains.
||Mice, rats, hamsters, etc.
||Woodchucks, Chipmunks, and Squirrels
Southern flying squirrels prefer areas with large deciduous trees, although
they have also been taken in mixed deciduous-pine woodlands. They usually
nest in tree cavities, but may occasionally build a leaf nest in the fork of
a tree limb or move into a bird house or the attic of a home.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
This species is a common resident in areas of the park with
large deciduous trees, although some individuals have also
been taken in mixed deciduous-pine woodlands. Squirrels have
been recorded at elevations ranging from approximately 1,500
feet to 4,700 feet.
- Blount Co.:
Abrams Branch; Cades Cove (1,800 feet).
- Cocke Co.:
Snake Den Mountain (4,700 feet).
- Sevier Co.:
Buena Vista along Foothills Parkway (1,500
feet - 1,600 feet); Greenbrier (2,500 feet);
- Haywood Co.:
Big Creek; Little Cataloochee; Walnut Bottom (3,100 feet).
- Swain Co.:
Deep Creek (2,200 feet); Smokemont (3,000 feet).
Most flying squirrels probably breed for the first time when they are
about a year old. The breeding season varies with latitude, occurring
from spring to fall in the north and from late summer to winter in the
south. At any given locality, there are usually two peaks of breeding,
reflecting the difference in the timing of the first breeding of
earlier-born and later-born females of the previous year. In the park,
females apparently produce two litters annually. A female collected
August 4 in Cades Cove contained four nearly full-term embryos. A nest
discovered at Deep Creek on August 30 contained four nursing young that
still had their eyes closed (Linzey, 1995b). The
gestation period is 40 days. The average litter size is between two and
four. At birth, the young weigh about 4 g and are blind and hairless,
except for vibrissae and short hairs on the chin and snout. They are
uncoordinated in their movements. The ears, which are folded over and
sealed at birth, become erect between two and six days of age, and by
seven days hair is visible over most of the body. The eyes open between
the 24th and 30th day of age, and weaning occurs at five to seven weeks,
by which time the young weigh about 43 g and resemble miniature adults.
When they are about 12 weeks of age, the young begin a molt from the
juvenile to the first adult pelage. At this age they are usually still
associated with their mother and may stay with her until she has another
litter. Families frequently remain together over winter.
Although southern flying squirrels have lived 13 years in captivity,
the life expectancy in the wild is five to six years.
- Terrestrial Ecology
Flying squirrels are nocturnal and active throughout the year, although
they may remain inactive for several weeks at a time during severe winter
weather. In the park, active individuals have been observed every month.
Throughout their range in the eastern United States, southern flying
squirrels nest communally during the colder months. This number usually
averages between three and eight, although Stupka (1960b
) found 26 squirrels in one hollow chestnut tree in Decembr, 1940.
The communal behavior is thought to either be a behavior for heat
conservation and/or social or physiological function.
Flying squirrels forage for food in trees and on the ground. They consume
a wide variety of plant materials including fruits, nuts, seeds, bark,
buds, flowers, sap, fungi, and lichens. They appear to be more carnivorous
than many other squirrels, eating insects and other invertebrates, birds,
eggs and nestlings, mice, and carrion. In the fall, they are active in
hoarding acorns or other kinds of nuts. The nuts are typically cached in
crevices or cavities in tree trunks, but may be stored in nest boxes or
- Predators and Defense
The stomach of a timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) taken near
Gatlinburg in August contained a southern flying squirrel (
None recorded in the park.
Links to Other Sites
- Special Protection Status
- In Park:
All plants and animals are protected within
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Collection requires a permit which is usually
granted only for
research or educational purposes.
- Map development
- Web page design & coding
- Denise Lim, University of Georgia, Athens
- John Pickering, University of Georgia, Athens
Fleetwood, R. J. 1934 - 35.
Journal of Raymond J. Fleetwood, wildlife technician,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for the period May 27,
1934 - June 27, 1935. 499 pp. (Typewritten).
Komarek, E. V. and R. Komarek. 1938.
Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bulletin of the Chicago
Academy of Sciences 5 (6): 137 - 162.
Layne, J. N. 1999.
Southern flying squirrel. Pages 463 - 465. In: D.E. Wilson,
and S. Ruff (eds.). The Smithsonian Book of North American
Mammals. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Linzey, D. W. 1995a.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Linzey, D. W. 1995b.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park-1995 Update.
Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 111(1):1-81.
Linzey, D. W. 1998.
The Mammals of Virginia. Blacksburg, Virginia: The
McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Savage, T. 1967.
The diet of rattlesnakes and copperheads in the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park. Copeia 1967 (1): 226 - 227.
Stupka, A. 1935 - 63.
Nature Journal, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 28 vols.
(years) each with index. (Typewritten copy in files of Great
Smoky Mountains National Park library).
Stupka, A. 1960b.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Natural History Handbook
Series Number 5. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Last modified: 20 June, 2002