Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gliding Squirrels

The Northern flying squirrel is one of two species of the genus Glaucomys, the only flying squirrels found in North America (the other is the somewhat smaller Southern flying squirrel which is moving northward with climate change). Flying squirrels are strictly nocturnal. From the picture you can see that they have large eyes and a flat tail. They also have long whiskers, common to nocturnal mammals. They prefer mushrooms and lichens as well as other typical squirrel food like nuts and eggs.
Flying Squirrels actually just glide.  Once in the air, they form an "X" with their limbs, causing their skin to stretch into a square-like shape and glide down at angles of 30 to 40 degrees. They maneuver well in the air, making 90 degree turns around obstacles if needed. Just before reaching a tree, they raise their flattened tails which abruptly changes their trajectory upwards, and point all of their limbs forward to create a parachute effect with the membrane in order to reduce the shock of landing. The limbs absorb the remainder of the impact, and the squirrels immediately run to the other side of the trunk or to the top of the tree in order to avoid any potential predators.
 Although graceful in flight, they are very clumsy walkers and if they happen to be on the ground in the presence of danger, they will prefer to hide rather than attempt an escape. That is likely how the cat hunted this one. Luckily I managed to extract it from the jaws of death – leaving it only with a salivated back.
Flying squirrels are generally under some form of protection... especially from me.

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