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    Flying squirrels, facts and photos

    what are flying squirrels?

    Flying squirrels are known to fly between 150 and 500 feet, navigating from tree to tree to avoid ground predators, but they actually glide rather than fly. Flying squirrels do not have their own means of propulsion, like a bird or bat, but instead glide using a furry membrane called a patagium that connects from the wrists to the ankles. when they jump out of a tree and extend their limbs, this loose flap of skin forms a square and acts like a hang glider.

    Flying squirrels can turn by lowering one arm, while a specialized piece of cartilage not found in other gliding mammals extends from the wrist to support the pagatium and help them steer. these animals are capable of doing 180-degree turns in the air to evade flying predators such as owls. Moving their hands and feet in opposite directions also helps flying squirrels direct their movements so they land safely on their strong, silent padded feet. their long, fluffy tails stabilize their flight, and flipping those tails up helps them slow down.

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    geographic range

    There are about 50 species of flying squirrels that range across most of North America to Central America, and range from Southeast and North Asia to Siberia and Scandinavia. they make their home in woodpecker holes, abandoned bird nests, or tree cavities in woods, woodlands, and jungles.

    appearance and diet

    aside from their patagia, flying squirrels resemble their ground cousins, with small, rounded faces, prominent ears, and fluffy tails that can be as long as their bodies. Their eyes are large, helping these nocturnal mammals navigate in the dark, and their fur color and markings vary by species.

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    their sizes vary as much as their color. The Pakistani woolly flying squirrel is the largest gliding mammal at five and a half pounds, while the Borneo pygmy flying squirrel is the smallest at just over three ounces.

    Diets also vary by location. In the Americas, the northern flying squirrel eats insects, seeds, nuts, and mushrooms, while the southern flying squirrel sometimes eats eggs or carrion. Meanwhile, the Indochinese flying squirrel, found in China and parts of Southeast Asia, prefers cultivated fruit.

    playback

    Some flying squirrels only have one mating cycle per year, but others, like the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel, have two. the time of year for mating and birth also depends on the species. many are promiscuous, meaning that males and females mate with multiple partners.

    In some species, such as the southern flying squirrels of North and Central America, the young are born blind, hairless, and helpless, while others are more developed at birth. females care for the young. there is also variation in development; for example, southern flying squirrels are weaned at two months, while Southeast Asian black flying squirrels are weaned at four months.

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    Although solitary, flying squirrels sometimes nest together, usually with family members, to keep warm in the winter months.

    conservation

    Nearly half of the flying squirrel species, such as the southern flying squirrel in North and Central America and the Javanese flying squirrel of Southeast Asia, have stable populations. their elusive nature makes them difficult to study, so there is little data on some species.

    For those with declining populations, such as the endangered smoking flying squirrel of Southeast Asia, threats include the destruction of their forest habitats by logging, other types of timber extraction, and agricultural and residential development, according to the international union for conservation of nature. Hunting and trapping are also threats to species such as the Bhutanese giant flying squirrel and the North Chinese flying squirrel.

    in the united states, northern flying squirrels are endangered in pennsylvania. not only do they face habitat loss due to development, but there has also been a decline in the fungi they eat due to the presence of woolly hemlock adelgids, invasive insects that destroy the hemlock stands where the fungi flourish.

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