Wild Profile: Meet the flying squirrel

Published: July 9, 2019

By Jukka Jantunen/Shutterstock

It’s not a bird. Or a plane. Or Superman (too bad). It’s a flying squirrel, soaring through the air for 20 metres at a time! Flying squirrels—they’re about the same size as red squirrels—don’t actually fly, of course. They jump from high perches then glide, by spreading all four legs to unfold sail-like flaps of furry skin that stretch from their wrists to their ankles.

In flight, these mammals use their tails to help steer—they can make 180 degree turns—then they lift them up to act as a brake when they reach their destinations. Unfortunately, spotting a flying squirrel in action isn’t always easy. They’re nocturnal. Still, you might catch a glimpse at your bird feeders, especially at dawn or a few hours after sunset. You’ll recognize them by their large, bulging cartoon eyes, the better to see in the dark with. (A large eye lets in more light for stronger night vision.)

Canada’s Northern flying squirrel is a decent flyer, and can glide for up to 48 metres. But non-native giant flying squirrels can stay airborne for up to 450 metres! Hey, that’s pretty super.

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