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                Southern Flying Squirrel

                Southern Flying Squirrel

                Assapan

                Kingdom
                Phylum
                Subphylum
                Class
                Order
                Family
                Tribe
                Genus
                SPECIES
                Glaucomys volans
                Population size
                Unknown
                Life Span
                5-10 yrs
                WEIGHT
                45-82 g
                LENGTH
                210-255 mm

                Southern flying squirrel is a considerably small, arboreal rodent. The animal exhibits large eyes as well as a flattened, wide and heavily furred tail. Southern flying squirrel is a gliding creature. When 'flying', it uses so-called "patagium" - a fold of skin, found between its hind and fore-legs. Before gliding, the rodent expands this fold of skin and rushes into the air.

                Distribution

                The natural range of Southern flying squirrel is considerably large, stretching from southeastern Canada to the eastern United States, Mexico and Honduras. The preferred habitat of this species is woodland, dominated by maple, beech, hickory, oak, poplar and other seed-producing hardwoods. The rodent also favors mixed conifer/deciduous forests.

                Southern Flying Squirrel habitat map

                Habits and Lifestyle

                Southern flying squirrels are nocturnal animals. They occasionally display social behavior and can be found in pairs. In order to conserve heat during the winter months, these rodents form groups of 10 - 20 squirrels, which huddle together in a den, typically located in a hollow tree. These dens are their main dwellings, along with deserted woodpecker holes as well as human-made buildings and bird boxes. During the reproductive season, females of this species are known to be highly territorial, fiercely defending their territories. Southern flying squirrels do not hibernate. In spite of their name, these rodents don't fly, but glide. During the 'flight', they are able to avoid trees and other obstacles with ease. Moreover, they can glide from a height of up to 18 meters, pass as much as 50 meters a time and make 90 turns. The longest recorded glide of Southern flying squirrel was 80 meters. Although normally quiet, these animals associate through conspecifics through various vocalizations.

                Diet and Nutrition

                As omnivorous animals, Southern flying squirrels have a rather diverse diet. They feed upon nuts, acorns, seeds, berries, fruit, moths, junebugs, leaf buds, bark, eggs and cheeks of birds, young mice, insects, carrion as well as fungus.

                Mating Habits

                REPRODUCTION SEASON
                January-April, June-August
                PREGNANCY DURATION
                40 days
                BABY CARRYING
                2-3 kittens
                INDEPENDENT AGE
                120 days
                FEMALE NAME
                doe
                MALE NAME
                buck
                BABY NAME
                pup, kit, kitten

                As Southern flying squirrels are very rarely seen, little is known about their mating system. However, as males do not care for their young and typically leave before the litter is born, it may mean that this species exhibits either polygynous (one male mates with multiple females) or polygynandrous (promiscuous) (both males and females have multiple mates) mating systems. Southern flying squirrels have two breeding seasons per year: one occurs from January to April, and the other one lasts from June to August. Gestation period lasts for 40 days, yielding 1 - 6 young with an average of 2 - 3 per litter. Weaning occurs quite late - at 65 days old. Young gain independence at the age of 120 days. The age of sexual maturity is typically one year old, although some individuals are ready to produce offspring at 9 months old.

                Population

                Population threats

                The population of this species as a whole doesn't face any serious threats. However, populations in certain areas suffer from habitat loss, combined with loss of cavity-bearing and mast-producing trees that are an important part of their habitat. Northern flying squirrels in Arkansas (U.S.A.) have been threatened by a seed-tree harvest regime without retained overstorey hardwoods, which have disturbed the local population of these animals, sharply decreasing the amount of available food recourses.

                Population number

                According to IUCN, the Southern flying squirrel is common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers remain stable.

                Ecological niche

                The main role of Southern flying squirrels in the local ecosystem is seed dispersal. These rodents act as key seed dispersers of not only hardwood trees, but also fruiting bodies of subterranean fungi, which they feed upon. They disperse fungi spores through their feces. The fungi mycelia are thought to be highly beneficial for tree growth and maintenance due to association with tree roots.

                Fun Facts for Kids

                • The favorite food of this rodent is hickory nuts and acorns. One way to detect if there as Southern flying squirrels in the area is presence of piles of gnawed hickory nuts, found at the base of large hickory trees.
                • Due to their large eyes, these animals see well at night. In addition, they possess well-developed senses of smell, vision, hearing and touch.
                • The thick paws serve them help them land on trees when gliding. Before the 'flight', they usually find the highest point, from where they continue gliding.
                • A single individual of this species hoards up to 15 000 nuts during a season.
                • Southern flying squirrels are frequently seen raiding bird feeders. In fact, these rodents love peanuts in the shell. Knowing this, some people even construct 'flying squirrel feeders'.
                • The North American flying squirrels closely resemble the Australian sugar gliders, although these two animals are not related.

                References

                1. Southern Flying Squirrel Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_flying_squirrel
                2. Southern Flying Squirrel on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/9240/0

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