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The Wild Side

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Bats are the only true flying mammals. But a flying squirrel is an expert hang glider. It almost never runs along the ground like other squirrels. Instead, it climbs to the top of a tall tree and launches itself into the air, gliding downwards to the bottom of another tree, over and over again, until it gets where it's going.

Although it usually makes shorter trips, it can go as far as 150 feet in one glide. That's about half the length of a football field - not bad for an animal the size of a chipmunk.

The scientific name for flying squirrels is Glaucomys volans (glaw-co-mis-vo-lens), which is Greek for "flying grey mouse." A flying squirrel has large dark eyes, a slightly upturned nose and large ears, all of which make it look a little like a mouse. Its soft, silky fur is mostly gray on top and white on the bottom. The males and females look alike. Between its front and back legs is a loose flap of skin that the squirrel stretches out like a kite when it is ready to "fly."

After swinging its head back and forth a few times to judge the distance, it leaps into the air. Using its tail like a rudder, it twists and turns to miss branches. Some scientists believe it uses high-pitched sounds like a bat to avoid colliding with trees. Down, down, down it glides, landing with a soft whump.

Flying squirrels live in holes in trees, usually leftover woodpecker holes. They can squeeze into a hole about the size of a quarter, so they could even live in your wren house or attic. Between four and six babies are born in the spring, and sometimes a second litter is born in late summer. When they're first born, the babies are naked and blind, and weigh about as much as six paper clips. They grow fast, though, and live about 5 or 6 years.

Like most squirrels, they enjoy eating nuts, fruits, berries, buds, tree bark and mushrooms. Unlike most squirrels, they also eat moths and beetles. So what eats a flying squirrel? Lots of things! House cats, bobcats, raccoons, weasels, owls, hawks and tree climbing snakes, just to name a few. No wonder this little guy is so shy.

So why haven't you seen a flying squirrel? Because they're nocturnal, which means they only come out at night. Flying squirrels live just about everywhere in Missouri.

If you have flying squirrels in your neighborhood, you might be able to attract them to a suet feeder. Place the feeder on a tree so that the light from your porch or house will reach it, but don't turn it on yet.

Next comes the hard part. After dark, wait quietly by the door or window and listen carefully. You may have to try this for several nights. When you hear a soft "thump" or some squeaks, turn on the porch light to reveal your visitor.

Make Your Own Flying Squirrel

To get a life-sized squirrel that will fit on an 81/2 x 11 piece of paper, enlarge our illustration using the "letter to 11x17" setting (130 percent) on a copier, or use ours as it is. Color it any way you like.

Cut out your squirrel along the solid border line (do not cut on the dashed lines). Fold it in half along the dashed line marked "A" so that the squirrel is inside. Then unfold it, squirrel side down, and fold in along both dotted lines marked "B" to make a point.

Fold the tip of the point in along dotted line "C."

Pick the paper up and refold line "A."

Fold both "wings" down along dotted line "D."

Cut off the tip along line "E" and put a piece of tape here and just below the tail. Put a paper clip on the nose of your squirrel and you are ready to glide. You can bend the tail up or down to make your squirrel do loops and rolls. Can your squirrel glide 150 feet like a real one?

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