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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

"Flying squirrels do not fly. They launch themselves into the air and glide long distances from tree to tree. They have a membrane known as a patagium that stretches between their front and hind limbs, which serves the same purpose as a hang glider's wings. The tail is flattened, which gives them an even greater gliding surface and aerial control. Northern Flying Squirrels play a critical role in the ecology of Pacific Northwest forests. They are important in the diets of Northern Spotted Owls owl pairs are estimated to consume as many as 500 flying squirrels a year and they help disperse the spores of fungi that aid the forest trees' absorption of nutrients from the soil."

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
  • Original description: Shaw, G., 1801.  General Zoology, p. 157.  Thomas Davison, London, 2:1-266.
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Distribution

Range Description

This species has a wide distribution throughout northern North America from Alaska in the United States, across Canada to the eastern provinces. It extends into the United States in several prongs. One extends to southern California, another to southern Utah, a third to northeastern South Dakota, and a fourth to eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. There are many disjunct populations in the southern portions of the range.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Occurs from Alaska through most of Canada, southward to the mountains of southern California, southern Rocky Mountains, western South Dakota, Great Lakes Region, and southern Appalachians.

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Geographic Range

Northern flying squirrels range from the treeline in Alaska and Canada southward in the west to northern California and Colorado, in the middle of the continent to central Michigan and Wisconsin, and in the east to northern North Carolina and Tennessee. Small populations live in the mountains in other parts of the United States, including the southern Appalachian Mountains, the Black Hills, and the Sierra Nevada.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Geographic Range

Glaucomys sabrinus ranges from the treeline in Alaska and Canada southward in the west to northern California and Colorado, in the middle of the continent to central Michigan and Wisconsin, and in the east to northern North Carolina and Tennessee. Island populations exist in areas of high elevation in other parts of the United States, including the southern Appalachian Mountains, the Black Hills, and the Sierra Nevada.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Northern flying squirrels weigh between 75 and 140 grams, and range from 275 to 342 mm in length. They have silky grey and cinnamon brown fur, with white tipped and grey based belly hairs. Northern flying squirrels have a furred patagium (fleshy membrane) that extends from the wrist of the foreleg to the ankles of the hindleg. The tail is furred, flattened, rounded at the end, and long (80% of the length of the head and body). Northern flying squirrels have large black eyes, which they use for nighttime activity. Southern flying squirrels, which appear similar to northern flying squirrels, can be distinguished because they are smaller and the hairs on the belly are often white all the way to the base of the hair.

Range mass: 75 to 140 g.

Average mass: 132.17 g.

Range length: 275 to 342 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Physical Description

Glaucomys sabrinus weighs between 75 and 140 grams, and ranges from 275 to 342 mm in length. It has silky grey and cinnamon brown fur, with white tipped and grey based belly hairs. Northern flying squirrels have a furred patagium (fleshy membrane) that extends from the wrist of the foreleg to the ankles of the hindleg. The tail is furred, flattened, rounded at the end, and long (80% of the length of the head and body). Glaucomys sabrinus has large black eyes, which it uses for nighttime activity. Southern flying squirrels, which appear similar to the northern flying squirrels, can be distinguished because they are smaller and the hairs on the belly are often white all the way to the base of the hair. The dental formula for Glaucomys sabrinus is 1/1, 0/0, 2/1, 3/3 = 12/10 = 22.

Range mass: 75 to 140 g.

Average mass: 132.17 g.

Range length: 275 to 342 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Size

Length: 37 cm

Weight: 125 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: None

Length:
Range: 275-342 mm

Weight:
Range: 75-140 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Palouse Grasslands Habitat

This taxon is found in the Palouse grasslands, among other North American ecoregions. The Palouse ecoregion extends over eastern Washington, northwestern Idaho and northeastern Oregon. Grasslands and savannas once covered extensive areas of the inter-mountain west, from southwest Canada into western Montana in the USA. Today, areas like the great Palouse prairie of eastern  are virtually eliminated as natural areas due to conversion to rangeland. The Palouse, formerly a vast expanse of native wheatgrasses (Agropyron spp), Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis), and other grasses, has been mostly plowed and converted to wheat fields or is covered by Drooping Brome (Bromus tectorum) and other alien plant species.

the Palouse historically resembled the mixed-grass vegetation of the Central grasslands, except for the absence of short grasses. Such species as Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Elymus spicatus), Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis) and Giant Wildrye (Elymus condensatus) and the associated species Lassen County Bluegrass (Poa limosa), Crested Hairgrass (Koeleria pyramidata), Bottlebrush Squirrel-tail (Sitanion hystrix), Needle-and-thread (Stipa comata) and Western Wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii) historically dominated the Palouse prairie grassland.

Representative mammals found in the Palouse grasslands include the Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), found burrowing in grasslands or beneath rocky scree; American Black Bear (Ursus americanus); American Pika (Ochotona princeps); Coast Mole (Scapanus orarius), who consumes chiefly earthworms and insects; Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis); Gray Wolf (Canis lupus); Great Basin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus parvus); Northern River Otter (Lontra canadensis); the Near Threatened Washington Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus washingtoni), a taxon who prefers habitat with dense grass cover and deep soils; and the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus), a mammal that can be either arboreal or fossorial.

There are not a large number of amphibians in this ecoregion. The species present are the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad (Spea intermontana), a fossorial toad that sometimes filches the burrows of small mammals; Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum); Northern Leopard Frog (Glaucomys sabrinus), typically found near permanent water bodies or marsh; Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana luteiventris), usually found near permanent lotic water; Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla), who deposits eggs on submerged plant stems or the bottom of water bodies; Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), fossorial species found in burrows or under rocks; Woodhouse's Toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii), found in arid grasslands with deep friable soils; Western Toad (Anaxyrus boreas), who uses woody debris or submerged vegetation to protect its egg-masses.

There are a limited number of reptiles found in the Palouse grasslands, namely only: the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea), often found in screes, rock outcrops as well as riparian vicinity; the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), who prefers lentic freshwater habitat with a thick mud layer; Yellow-bellied Racer (Chrysemys picta); Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus), often found under loose stones in this ecoregion; Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii), a fossorial taxon often found in bunchgrass habitats; Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), frequently found in sandy washes with scattered rocks; Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata), an essentially terrestrial species that prefers riparian areas and other moist habitats; Pacific Pond Turtle (Emys marmorata), a species that usually overwinters in upland habitat; Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis), who, when inactive, may hide under rocks or in animal burrows; Night Snake (Hypsiglena torquata); Western Skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus), who prefers grasslands with rocky areas; Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans), found in rocky grasslands, especially near water; Rubber Boa (Charina bottae).

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Comments: Prefers coniferous and mixed forest, but will utilize deciduous woods and riparian woods. Optimal conditions have been reported as cool, moist, mature forest with abundant standing and down snags. Often most abundant near surface water; that is, swamps or streams (Heaney, in Wilson and Ruff 1999). In the Oregon Cascades, Rosenberg and Anthony (1992) concluded that flying squirrels are habitat generalists and are not more abundant in old growth than in younger, second-growth stands. Occupies tree cavities, leaf nests, underground burrows; uses large number in alternate den sites in Alaska (Austin et al., no date). See Payne et al. (1989) for habitat characteristics of endangered Appalachian populations. Prefers cavities in mature trees as den sites. In winter in British Columbia, squirrels appeared to select nest trees more for suitable nest sites than for tree size: diameter at breast height was 16.7-79.0 cm, age was 42-174 years, and height was 11.2-32.7 m (Cotton and Parker 2000). Small outside twig nests sometimes are used for den sites. Sometimes uses bluebird boxes.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It prefers coniferous and mixed forest, but will utilize deciduous woods and riparian woods. Optimal conditions have been reported as cool, moist, mature forest with abundant standing and down snags. Often most abundant near surface water; that is, swamps or streams (Heaney, in Wilson and Ruff 1999). In the Oregon Cascades, Rosenberg and Anthony (1992) concluded that flying squirrels are habitat generalists and are not more abundant in old growth than in younger, second-growth stands. Occupies tree cavities, leaf nests, underground burrows; uses large number in alternate den sites in Alaska. Prefers cavities in mature trees as den sites. In winter in British Columbia, squirrels appeared to select nest trees more for suitable nest sites than for tree size: diameter at breast height was 16.7-79.0 cm, age was 42-174 years, and height was 11.2-32.7 m (Cotton and Parker 2000). Small outside twig nests sometimes are used for den sites. Sometimes uses bluebird boxes.

Breeding season: February-May; July. Gestation lasts 37-42 days. One or two litters of 2-6 young (average 4-5) are born March-early July, and late August to early September (apparently one litter in spring or summer in the southern Appalachians). Weaned at about two months. Sexually mature at 6-12 months.

Highly social, especially in winter when nests may be shared. Apparently lives in family groups of adults and juveniles. Weigl (1978) recorded G. sabrinus home ranges of up to 35 ha. Summer home range estimated at 2-3 ha in North Carolina, 5-7 ha in West Virginia . Home range has been estimated at about 3-7 ha and 5-13 ha in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, respectively (see Witt 1992). In western Oregon, home range was estimated at about 3-5 ha (Witt 1992).

Diet consists largely of fungi and lichens plus plant and animal material (insects, nuts, buds, seeds, fruit). Apparently can subsist on lichens and fungi for extended periods, and may depend on having these food items available. Spends considerable time foraging on the ground. Active at night. Peak activity in the southern Appalachians occurs from sunset to two hours after and one hour before sunrise (Wells-Gosling and Heaney 1984). Active throughout the year.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Usually found in areas with mostly conifers, northern flying squirrels can also be relatively abundant in deciduous and mixed coniferous/deciduous forests. Northern flying squirrels have been found in diverse areas including regions made up of spruce, fir, and mixed hemlocks, in beech maple forests, and in areas of white spruce and birch with interspersed aspen groves. Northern flying squirrels often nest in conifers 1 to 18 meters above the ground. The nests are made of twigs and bark, and they are softened with feathers, fur, leaves, and conifer needles.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: taiga ; forest ; mountains

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Most often found in areas dominated by conifers, northern flying squirrels can also be relatively abundant in deciduous and mixed coniferous/deciduous forests. Glaucomys sabrinus has been found in diverse areas including regions dominated by spruce, fir, and mixed hemlocks, in beech maple forests, and in areas dominated by white spruce and birch with interspersed aspen groves. The northern flying squirrel often nests in conifers 1 to 18 meters above the ground. The nests are made of twigs and bark, and they are softened with feathers, fur, leaves, and conifer needles.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: taiga ; forest ; mountains

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Weigl (1978) recorded G. sabrinus home ranges of up to 35 ha. Summer home range estimated at 2-3 ha in North Carolina, 5-7 ha in West Virginia (Austin et al., no date). Home range has been estimated at about 3-7 ha and 5-13 ha in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, respectively (see Witt 1992). In western Oregon, home range was estimated at about 3-5 ha (Witt 1992).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Diet consists largely of fungi and lichens plus plant and animal material (insects, nuts, buds, seeds, fruit). Apparently can subsist on lichens and fungi for extended periods, and may depend on having these food items available (A91HAN02NA). Spends considerable time foraging on the ground.

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Food Habits

Northern flying squirrels have a typical squirrel diet. They eat nuts, acorns, fungi, and lichens, supplemented by fruits, buds, sap and the occasional insecta and aves egg. Northern flying squirrels differ from many squirrels in that lichens and fungi are a large portion of the diet and are not just supplements. It is thought that northern flying squirrels hoard food for the winter, though this has not been proven.

Animal Foods: birds; eggs; insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; sap or other plant fluids; lichens

Other Foods: fungus

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

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Food Habits

Glaucomys sabrinus has a characteristic squirrel diet. They eat nuts, acorns, fungi, and lichens, supplemented by fruits, buds, sap and the occasional insect and bird egg. Northern flying squirrels diverge from many squirrels in that lichens and fungi are a large portion of the diet and are not just supplements. It is thought that northern flying squirrels hoard food for the winter, though this has not been confirmed.

Animal Foods: birds; eggs; insects

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; sap or other plant fluids; lichens

Other Foods: fungus

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: herbivore (Granivore ); mycophage

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Northern flying squirrels may be important for spreading spores of fungi. Northern flying squirrels may also be important in the spreading conifer cones, though some wonder if their activity actually hurts forest growth because they feed on the seeds.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

The main predators of northern flying squirrels are strigidae, accipitridae, martes americana, mustela, canis latrans, and the felis silvestris. They avoid predators mainly by being active at night and through their alertness and agility in the trees.

Known Predators:

  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • hawks (Accipitridae)
  • American martens (Martes_americana)
  • weasels (Mustela)
  • coyotes (Canis_latrans)
  • domestic cats (Felis_silvestris)

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Ecosystem Roles

Glaucomys sabrinus may be important in the dispersal of spores of mycorrhizal fungi. Northern flying squirrels may also be important in the dispersal of conifer cones, though some wonder if their activity actually impedes forest reproduction through their predation on seeds.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Predation

The main predators of northern flying squirrels are owls, hawks, martens, weasels, coyotes, and the domestic cat. They avoid predation mainly by being active at night and through their vigilance and agility in the trees.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Glaucomys sabrinus is prey of:
Strigiformes
Accipitridae
Mustela
Martes
Felis silvestris
Canis latrans

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Known prey organisms

Glaucomys sabrinus preys on:
fungi
Insecta
Aves
Certhia americana

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

Highly social, especially in winter when nests may be shared. Apparently lives in family groups of adults and juveniles.

In western Oregon, population density was 0-0.24/ha (mean 0.12) in second growth forest and 0.52-1.28/ha (mean 0.85) in old-growth forest (Witt 1992). Density averaged 2.0-2.3/ha in Douglas-fir habitats in western Oregon (Rosenberg and Anthony 1992). In Utah, density was 0.2-1.8/ha in POPULUS-dominated forest, 1.2-5.8/ha in ABIES-dominated forest, and 0.2-2.1/ha in PICEA-dominated forest (see Witt 1992). Sciurid mycophagy may play an important role in forest ecology (Maser and Maser 1988).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Northern flying squirrels give a soft low chirp, and they cluck when distressed. They also use scent and touch to communicate with one another.

They have excellent senses of hearing, smell, vision, and touch.

Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Communication and Perception

Northern flying squirrels emit a soft low chirp, and they cluck when distressed. They also use scent and touch to communicate with one another.

They have excellent senses of hearing, smell, vision, and touch.

Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Cyclicity

Comments: Active at night. Peak activity in the southern Appalachians occurs from sunset to 2 hours after and 1 hour before sunrise (Wells-Gosling and Heaney 1984). Active throughout the year.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Most northern flying squirrels live less than four years in the wild.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
4 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
4 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
<4 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
13.0 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Most northern flying squirrels live less than four years in the wild.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
4 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
4 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
<4 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
13.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 14.2 years (captivity) Observations: In captivity these animals may live up to 14.2 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Breeding season: February-May; July. Gestation lasts 37-42 days. One or two litters of 2-6 young (average 4-5) are born March-early July, and late August to early September (apparently one litter in spring or summer in the southern Appalachians). Weaned at about 2 months. Sexually mature at 6-12 months.

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Little information is available on the mating system of northern flying squirrels. Individuals most likely have different mates each breeding season.

Courtship begins in March and may continue until late May. One litter is born per year, and the female raises the young without the help of the male. Mating occurs in early spring and is followed by a pregnancy of 37 to 42 days. Usually, 2 to 4 young are born, though litters as small as 1 and as large as 6 have been recorded. Newborns are poorly developed; they weigh 5 to 6 grams, and they have closed eyes and ears, fused toes, and a cylindrical tail. By the sixth day the toes are separated, and the eyes open after 31 days. Young leave the nest at 40 days and are totally weaned after two months, though they may remain with the mother another month. Flying squirrels breed in the first summer after their birth.

Breeding interval: Flying squirrels breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Mating occurs between March and May.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 2-4.

Range gestation period: 37 to 42 days.

Average weaning age: 2 months.

Average time to independence: 3 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 5.5 g.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
210 days.

Young flying squirrels are born helpless and are nursed and cared for by their mothers until they reach independence.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Not much information is available on the mating system of northern flying squirrels. Individuals most likely have different mates each breeding season.

Courtship begins in March and may continue until late May. One litter is born per year, and the female raises the young without the help of the male. Copulation occurs in early spring and is followed by a gestation period of 37 to 42 days. Usually, 2 to 4 young are born, though litters as small as 1 and as large as 6 have been recorded. Newborns are poorly developed; they weigh 5 to 6 grams, and they have closed eyes and ears, fused toes, and a cylindrical tail. By the sixth day the toes are separated, and the eyes open after 31 days. Young leave the nest at 40 days and are totally weaned after two months, though they may remain with the mother another month. Flying squirrels breed in the first summer after their birth.

Breeding interval: Flying squirrels breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Mating occurs between March and May.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 2-4.

Range gestation period: 37 to 42 days.

Average weaning age: 2 months.

Average time to independence: 3 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 5.5 g.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
210 days.

Young flying squirrels are born helpless and are nursed and cared for by their mothers until they reach independence.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Glaucomys sabrinus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Large range in North America; common in many areas; certain populations in Washington, Oregon, and California may comprise a distinct species.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.)

Reviewer/s
Amori, G., Koprowski, J. & Roth, L. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern because it has a very wide range, its populations are secure throughout much of its range, and there are no major threats.
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Two types of northern flying squirrels, North Carolina northern flying squirrels and West Virginia northern flying squirrels, are threatened populations in the Appalachians. North Carolina northern flying squirrels were listed as endangered in 1985. Between the 1880's and the 1920's, 500,000 acres of forest where these two type of squirrels live were reduced by logging to 200 acres. Conservationists are concerned that further habitat destruction and pollution will wipe out what remains of vulnerable mountain habitats. The plan being carried out through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office is the following: 1) figure out the exact range of these two types of squirrel 2) protect areas with suitable habitat 3) explore the ecology of the squirrels 4) test the response to various habitat changes, focusing on how to make the habitat better and harvest trees in a way that won't disturb the squirrels. Some argue that many other populations of northern flying squirrels are also endangered, but none have been listed as of yet.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: endangered; no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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The subspecies Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus and G. s. fuscus are threatened populations in the Appalachians. Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus, North Carolina flying squirrels were designated as endangered in 1985. Between the 1880's and the 1920's, 500,000 acres of forest supporting the two subspecies were reduced by timbering to 200 acres. Conservationists are concerned that further habitat destruction, fragmentation, and pollution will eliminate the small and vulnerable islands of high elevation habitats. The plan being implemented through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office is the following: 1) determine the exact distribution of the two subspecies 2) protect areas with suitable habitat 3) explore the ecology of the two subspecies 4) test the response to various habitat modifications, concentrating on enhancement measures and compatible timber harvest methods. Some argue that many other populations of subspecies are also endangered, but none have been listed as of yet.

US Federal List: endangered; no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status

The Prince of Wales Flying Squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus griseifrons, is Endangered; two other subspecies are Vulnerable: the Carolina Flying Squirrel (G. sabrinus coloratus) and the Virginia Flying Squirrel (G. sabrinus fuscus).
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Population

Population
This species has a large range in North America and is common in many areas. Recorded densities vary from <1/ha to 10/ha. In western Oregon, population density was 0-0.24/ha (mean 0.12) in second growth forest and 0.52-1.28/ha (mean 0.85) in old-growth forest (Witt 1992). Density averaged 2.0-2.3/ha in Douglas-fir habitats in western Oregon (Rosenberg and Anthony 1992). In Utah, density was 0.2-1.8/ha in populus-dominated forest, 1.2-5.8/ha in Abies-dominated forest, and 0.2-2.1/ha in Picea-dominated forest (see Witt 1992).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no major threats to this species overall. Declines in the southern Appalachians may be due to a roundworm parasite (Strongyloides robustus) of southern flying squirrels that is lethal or debilitating to northern flying squirrels. Habitat changes favourable to Glaucomys volans are likely to be detrimental to Glaucomys sabrinus.
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Management

Management Requirements: Placement of nest boxes may be useful in augmenting populations.

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Its range includes several protected areas throughout its range. Subspecies fuscus and coloratus of the Appalachian Mountains are listed by USFWS as Endangered.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Northern flying squirrels sometimes select den sites in houses and barns, which is undesireable due to the noisy activity at night and the litter from nests and seeds. Northern flying squirrels can also cause problems for professional trappers in the winter, as the squirrels enter traps set for martens and minks.

Negative Impacts: household pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known direct positive effects of northern flying squirrels on humans. Because they are may disperse seeds and spores and are prey to a variety of predators, they help maintain a thriving ecosystem.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Northern flying squirrels sometimes select den sites in houses and barns, which is undesireable due to the noisy activity at night and the litter from nests and seed caches. Northern flying squirrels can also cause problems for professional trappers in the winter, as the squirrels enter traps set for martens and minks.

Negative Impacts: household pest

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Wikipedia

Northern flying squirrel

The Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) 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, G. volans). Unlike most members of their family, flying squirrels are strictly nocturnal.

The Northern flying squirrel is found in coniferous and mixed forests across the top of North America, from Alaska to Nova Scotia, south to the mountains of North Carolina and west to California. Populations from the Pacific Coast of the United States are genetically distinct from those of G. sabrinus found elsewhere in North America, although they are considered to belong to the same species. Two subspecies are found in the southern Appalachians, the Carolina Northern flying squirrel, G. s. coloratus, and the Virginia Northern flying squirrel G. s. fuscus, both of which are endangered, although the Virginia subspecies has recovered enough that it was delisted in August 2008.[2] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the flying squirrel back under protection on June 6, 2011.

Description[edit]

The nocturnal, arboreal rodents have thick light brown or cinnamon fur on their upper body and greyish on the flanks and whitish underneath. They have large eyes and a flat tail. They can also be identified by their long whiskers, common to nocturnal mammals. The adult northern flying squirrel measures from 25 to 37 cm long, and their weight can range from 110 to 230 grams.

Gliding[edit]

A Northern flying squirrel gliding.

Flying Squirrels do not actually fly, they glide using a patagium created by a fold of skin.[3][4] From atop of trees, flying squirrels can initiate glides from a running start[4] or from a stationary position by bringing their limbs under the body, retracting their heads, and then propelling themselves off the tree.[3][4] It is believed that they use triangulation to estimate the distance of the landing as they often lean out and pivot from side to side before jumping.[5] Once in the air, they form an "X" with their limbs, causing their membrane to stretch into a square-like shape[5] and glide down at angles of 30 to 40 degrees.[4] They maneuver with great efficiency in the air, making 90 degree turns around obstacles if needed.[4] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[3][4]

Diet[edit]

A major food source for the squirrels are fungi (truffles) of various species, although they also eat lichens, mushrooms, all mast-crop nuts, tree sap, insects, carrion, bird eggs and nestlings, buds and flowers. The squirrels are able to locate truffles by olfaction, though they also seem to use cues such as the presence of coarse woody debris, indicating a decaying log, and spatial memory of locations where truffles were found in the past.

The northern flying squirrel is also known to cache food for when food supplies are lower. These caches can be in cavities in trees, as well as in the squirrels' nest. Lichens and seeds are commonly cached.

Ecology[edit]

The northern flying squirrel also disseminates spores of the fungi that they eat.

Behaviour[edit]

Northern Flying Squirrel

The Northern flying squirrel generally nests in holes in trees, preferring large-diameter trunks and dead trees, and will also build outside leaf nests called dreys and will also nest underground. Tree cavities created by woodpeckers as suitable nest sites tend to be more abundant in old-growth forests, and so do the squirrels, though harvested forests can be managed in ways that are likely to increase squirrel numbers. Except when rearing young, the squirrels shift from nest to nest frequently. They often share nests during winter months, forming aggregations. Usually, aggregate nests contain 4 to 10 individuals. The sharing of nests in winter by northern flying squirrels is important in maintaining body temperature (biothermal regulation), as northern flying squirrels do not hibernate, nor do they enter torpor states.

Northern flying squirrel gliding distances tend to be between 5 and 25 metres, though glides of up to 45 m and longer have been observed. Average glides are about 5 m less for females than for males. Glide angle has been measured at 26.8 degrees and glide ratio at 1.98., width is 4 ft.

Since first documented by Shaw in 1801, the general understanding was that northern flying squirrels bred but once per year. Recently, in southern Ontario, Canada, polyestrus behaviour (two litters per year) has been documented for the first time.[6] This observation has since been confirmed by a second research team in New Brunswick, Canada.[7]

In southern Ontario, Canada, genetic evidence has recently shown that hybridization with the rapid northward expansion and increased sympatry of southern flying squirrels.[8]

Predation[edit]

Northern flying squirrels, along with pine squirrels, are an important prey species for the Spotted Owl Strix occidentalis and Eastern Screech Owl Megascops asio.[9] Other predators include various other large birds, especially the Great Horned Owl, hawks, the American Marten, the Canadian Lynx the Red Fox, and the Domestic Cat.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Linzey, A. V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G.) (2008). Glaucomys sabrinus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  2. ^ USFWS Delisting Report dated 8/09
  3. ^ a b c Banfield AWF. 1974. The mammals of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Forsyth A. 1999. Mammals of North America: Temperate and Arctic regions. Willowdale: Firefly Books.
  5. ^ a b c d Walker EP, Paradiso JL. 1975. Mammals of the world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  6. ^ Patterson & Patterson, Jesse E.H. & Stephen J. (2010). "Multiple Annual Litters in Glaucomys sabrinus (Northern Flying Squirrel)" 17/1. Steuben, ME: Northeastern Naturalist. pp. 167–169. 
  7. ^ Smith et al, Matthew (2011). "Evidence of Multiple Annual Litters in Glaucomys sabrinus (Northern Flying Squirrel)" 18/3. Steuben, ME: Northeastern Naturalist. p. 386. 
  8. ^ Garroway et al, Colin J. (2009). "Climate change induced hybridization in flying squirrels". Mississauga, Canada: Global Change Biology. doi:10.11.11/j.1365-2486.2009.01948.x. 
  9. ^ Direct observation of Screech Owl nesting box, Tom Knapp 3 Jan 2014
  • Arbogast, B. S. (1999). Mitochondrial DNA phylogeography of the New World flying squirrels Glaucomys: implications for Pleistocene biogeography. Journal of Mammalogy, 80, 142-155.
  • Arbogast, B. S., Browne, R. A., Weigl, P. D. and Kenagy, G. J. (2005). Conservation genetics of endangered flying squirrels from the Appalachian mountains of eastern North America. Animal Conservation, 8, 123-133.
  • Bakker, V. J., & Hastings, K. (2002). Den trees used by northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) in southeastern Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 80, 1623-1633.
  • Carey, A. B., Kershner, J., Biswell, B., & De Toledo, L. D. (1999). Ecological scale and forest development: squirrels, dietary fungi, and vascular plants in managed and unmanaged forests. Wildlife Monographs 5-71.
  • Carey, A. B., Wilson, T. M., Maguire, C. C., & Biswell, B. L. (1997). Dens of northern flying squirrels in the Pacific northwest. Journal of Wildlife Management, 61, 684-699.
  • Cotton, C. L., & Parker, K. L. (2000). Winter activity patterns of northern flying squirrels in sub-boreal forests. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 78, 1896-1901.
  • Forsman, E. D., Otto, I. A., Aubuchon, D., Lewis, J. C., Sovern, S. G., Maurice, K. J., & Kaminski, T. (1994). Reproductive chronology of the northern flying squirrel on the Olympic peninsula, Washington. Northwest Science, 68, 273-276.
  • Martin, K. J., & Anthony, R. G. (1999). Movements of northern flying squirrels in different-aged forest stands of western Oregon. Journal of Wildlife Management, 63, 291-297.
  • Mitchell, D. (2001). Spring and fall diet of the endangered West Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus). American Midland Naturalist, 146, 439-443.
  • Pyare, S., & Longland, W. S. (2001). Mechanisms of truffle detection by northern flying squirrels. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 79, 1007-1015.
  • Pyare, S., Smith, W. P., Nicholls, J. V., & Cook, J. A. (2002). Diets of northern flying squirrels, Glaucomys sabrinus, in southeast Alaska. Canadian Field Naturalist, 116, 98-103.
  • Odom, R.H., W.M. Ford, J.W. Edwards, C.W. Stihler, and J.M. Menzel. 2001. Developing a habitat model for the endangered Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus) in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. Biological Conservation 99: 245-252.
  • Vernes, K. (2001). Gliding performance of the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) in mature mixed forest of eastern Canada. Journal of Mammalogy, 82, 1026-1033.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Arbogast (1999) examined mtDNA phylogeography based on samples from West Virginia, North Carolina, Utah, Michigan, Alberta, Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California and found two distinct mtDNA lineages: a western lineage (western California, Oregon, and Washington) and an "eastern" lineage (remainder of range). The level of sequence divergence between the two G. sabrinus clades was slightly greater than that observed between G. sabrinus and G. volans, suggesting the possibility of an unrecognized species within G. sabrinus (Arbogast 1999). However, Arbogast subsequently did not find fixed allozymic differences between the two lineages, so the North American mammal checklist by Baker et al. (2003) did not recognize any new species in this group, though Baker et al. (2003) did acknowledge that further study may reveal that the traditionally recognized G. sabrinus may indeed include cryptic species. Thorington and Hoffmann (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) also did not split G. sabrinus into multiple species.

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