Flying Squirrels

Squirrels are so common in Wisconsin that many of us take them for granted. They’re everywhere, stealing bird seed, digging holes, chattering from the tree outside of your window. Of all the animal photos we’ve collected at Snapshot Wisconsin, squirrels and chipmunks make up 9%, making them our second largest animal category after deer. Most people know of the gray squirrel and fox squirrel, but Wisconsin is home to eight other squirrel species as well. I was most surprised to learn that we have not just one, but two distinct species of flying squirrels (the northern flying squirrel and the southern flying squirrel).

A fox squirrel looking right at the camera
Fox squirrel captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

Growing up, I had no idea we had flying squirrels in our state. I had assumed that these unique gliders were only found in vast tracks of forest out west. Two years ago, a family friend told me a story about a flying squirrel that snuck in through a hole in their old farmhouse and took a nap inside one of their pillows. It wasn’t until they laid their head on the pillow that they startled the squirrel, which quickly bolted for safety. Thankfully, most of us don’t have alarming encounters with squirrels, but this story made me realize that I had been living alongside these small creatures all my life and I had no idea they were there. I decided to learn more about them. 

A small flying squirrel on a log at night.
Flying squirrel captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera at night.

Flying squirrels are nocturnal, which explains why they only show up on our Snapshot Wisconsin cameras at night. They have large, glassy eyes and cinnamon-colored fur. During the day, flying squirrels make themselves at home in old woodpecker holes or other naturally occurring cavities in trees. You might be able to catch a glimpse of one if you’re in the woods a few hours after dark, or just before dawn when they’re most active.

A flying squirrel spread out mid-flight
A ventral view of a flying squirrel captured on a Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera.

“Flying” is actually a misleading term since these tiny squirrels get around by jumping from the trunk of a tree, then using their extra skin to help them glide to the next trunk. The farthest observed glide was over 290 feet, but most glides are around 60 feet.  

Although the southern flying squirrel is found across the state, the northern flying squirrel is mostly found in the old-growth forests in the northern part of our state. The northern flying squirrel is a species of “special concern” in Wisconsin. This means it is not yet threatened or endangered, but they are still protected and monitored. A flying squirrel’s diet can include nuts, fruits, buds, and insects, but a large portion also comes from mushrooms. They help spread the spores of these fungi, which assist coniferous trees with water and nutrient absorption. The flying squirrels themselves are also prey for a large number of species, some of which include owls, coyotes, weasels, fox, and hawks.

I was surprised to learn just how much these small creatures contribute to our state’s ecosystems. It just goes to show that there’s always more to learn about the wildlife around you.

Sources:
https://www.eekwi.org/animals/mammals/flying-squirrel
https://dnr.wi.gov/files/PDF/pubs/er/ER0678.pdf
https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/88/4/862/909098#15736779

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