Winter Mammals of Iowa: Southern Flying Squirrels

The Southern flying squirrel is Iowa’s smallest squirrel. Although they live statewide, it can be difficult to spot them. The flying squirrel is nocturnal so they will sleep during the day. Usually they will sleep in tree cavities which can make it difficult to spot them. They are typically solitary animals during the summer, however, during the winter time they will huddle together to survive the cold winter temperatures. As many as 20 flying squirrels may huddle together. They do not accumulate body fat or grow longer, thicker fur, because that would change their ability to glide.

Flying squirrels actually cannot fly. They have extra skin between their front and back legs. This is called patagia and it acts as a wingsuit. This allows the flying squirrels to glide from tree to tree. They can glide over 150 feet!  Because they have a unique form of transportation, flying squirrels prefer living in mature forests so that they have trees to glide to and from. Flying squirrels have two rounds of breeding each summer. The first breeding takes place in between April and May. The second breeding takes place in between August and September. They will usually give birth to three or four young. When they are born, baby flying squirrels are without fur, blind, and deaf. They will wean after six to eight weeks. Flying squirrels will typically eat nuts, acorns, fruit, bark, and seeds. They will also eat insects, birds, eggs, and nestlings, making them the most carnivorous of the squirrels.

Under ultraviolet light, flying squirrels actually glow a bright pink color. This means that they are one of the only mammals that is known to absorb light in one color while emitting it in another. The cause of their fluorescence in flying squirrels is unknown, but it is believed to help with night-time communication.

flying squirrel on a tree