Does the flying squirrel really exist?

You’ve probably seen a squirrel before. Able to jump from branch to branch with elegance, it is however not equipped with wings. However, there are many “flying” squirrels. But this term is not precise because it does not designate one but several animals, corresponding to very different species. To shed some light on the situation, this article takes stock of the world of flying squirrels.

A little classification …

To navigate and understand who these animals are, it is necessary to review the classification.

Mammals (which are a class of animals) fall into different families. Among these are the sciurids. The name of this family is composed from the Greek terms σκιά, skiá, ombre, and οὐρά, ourá, tail. All these animals have a long tail, capable of providing shade. A total of 285 species are found on all continents, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.

We distinguish :

  • the sciurids, including tree squirrels (those you know) and ground squirrels such as marmots,
  • and the pteromyines, who are the real flying squirrels.

All animals known as “flying squirrels” have a skin membrane called patagium. This term is also used to refer to the membrane that makes up the wings of birds and bats. In flying squirrels, it connects the forelimbs and hindquarters.

The real flying squirrels

Real flying squirrels move by jumping, in the same way a tree squirrel might do, but also by hovering, the tail serving as a rudder. These animals are found in the forests of southeastern North America, from Canada to Mexico, as well as Asia.

Among them are the flying squirrels. The flying squirrel or Glaucomys sabrinus, is especially prevalent in the United States and Canada, where it can be called assapan. The underside of its body is white, while the upper is gray-brown. It measures between 25 and 30 cm in length, including 11 to 14 cm of tail, and weighs between 113 and 185 g. It can hover for a distance of 50 meters. It is mostly found in mixed forests or coniferous forests.

Like many animals living at night, the way of life of the great palotouche has long remained a big question. Recently, it has been discovered mainly mycophagus, that is, mushrooms make up the bulk of its menu, mainly in autumn and winter. The nature of its food is yet to be determined for spring and summer.

The Anomaluridae family

Anomalurids are only found in the forests of equatorial Africa. Like real flying squirrels, they are rodents equipped with a patagium connecting the forelimbs and hindquarters. However, they also have a large cartilaginous spur at the elbow, resembling a thorn, which allows them to laterally develop additional surface. This is arguably the reason why they hover more efficiently than real flying squirrels as they are able to cover fluently. 100 meters away and even reach 250 meters in a single flight.

They have another characteristic: their tail equipped with a double row of scales on the base, ground side. They are used to avoid falling when they progress in series of jumps along the trees. This equipment is completed with claws at the level of the fingers, comparable to those of a cat. This is why these animals are also excellent climbers.

Much like real flying squirrels, they live at night and have a lot to reveal about their lifestyles. But we know that they are capable of living in groups of a hundred individuals in the hollow of a tree.

It should be noted that the Anomaluridae family has one species, the Zenkerella insignis, which does not have patagium. It lives in the canopy of the forests of Cameroon and Gabon.

False flying squirrels

the flying galeopithecus (Cynocephalus volans) is a small arboreal mammal that also has a patagium allowing it to soar from tree to tree. He lives in the Philippines and, with the Temminck Galeopithecus Where Galeopterus variegatus (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore), represents the only two species of dermoptera. Also called colugos, these herbivores are more commonly referred to as “flying lemurs”. While their body is only 30 cm long, weighing between 1 and 2 kg, their patagium can be 60-70 cm wide and they can fly over 145 meters in length. All four legs are similar in size, and the webbed toes bear long, curved, pointed claws.

Our overview of the world of flying squirrels cannot be complete without mentioning the flying phalanx (Petaurus breviceps), a small marsupial that lives in eastern and northern Australia, as well as in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. It measures 16 to 20 cm and has a tail slightly longer than the body. Its weight varies between 80 g and 165 g. He has large erect ears and especially large dark and shiny eyes. Their patagium allows them to hover over a fifty meters. It feeds on resin and tree sap, nectar, pollen and living insects. Its modes of communication are varied, barking, whistling and buzzing, but also the diffusion of odors, nauseating for a human nose. Its cute air, however, attracts the desire for possession and this wild animal can, unfortunately, find itself locked in a cage. However, it is a very bad idea, given his very specific needs, and his living environment, very far from what is possible to offer him here.

Photo credit: MimiMia Photography