Endangered Species Report #38
Virginia Flying Squirrel
Written by: Holly L. Koppel
The Virginia flying squirrel, or northern flying squirrel, as it is referred to outside of its Appalachian range, has been listed as an endangered species by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service since 1985. This gives the squirrel some protection against hunters, loggers, and developers; however, since it was declared endangered, very little progress in saving this species has been made. This lack of progress is mainly due to the fact that so few people actually care about this species' survival.
Part of this may be attributed to the fact that these squirrels are primarily nocturnal, which means that few will actually be able to see them in the wild. For people who want to get up early to see them, they are fairly active about one to two hours before sunset and then again before sunrise. Unfortunately, since this species has lost so much of their home to humans, they are also extremely shy, and will usually scurry up the nearest tree when they sense a human in their territory.
Territories for the Virginia flying squirrel range from about 1.97 acres to 76.57 acres. Population density for these territories can be as high as 10 squirrels per every 2 acres in favorable habitats. The female squirrels are very territorial; however, the male squirrels generally are not. The reason for this is not exactly clear, and scientists are hoping that with more research, they may be able to learn why.
Unfortunately, these territories have been fragmented and destroyed by developers, and by the logging industry. Luckily, the logging industry has been banned from most areas where the flying squirrels are found, but that hasn't stopped developers from destroying the very same land. A big part of the problem comes from the growth of the suburbs into the more rural areas of the United States. As more and more people moved into these rural areas, developers have also moved in to bulldoze the land and destroy the area for wildlife.
Because these squirrels are so shy, very little is known about them. What scientists do know is that their fur color is silky gray or cinnamon brown with a fleshy membrane that extends from the wrist of the foreleg to the ankles of the hindleg. This fleshy membrane is what allows these squirrels to "fly." They don't actually "fly", they glide from higher perches on trees to lower branches. To do this, they will spread their arms and legs, drawing the loose skin running along their body taut, and they glide kind of like a parachute. By changing the tension in the membranes, and alternating the position of the tail, they can control their direction and speed. Their tail is furry, flattened, and rounded at the end, making it easy for the squirrels to manipulate it to change their direction.
Mating season for the flying squirrel starts in March or April, and then continues until late May. After about 37-42 days, a litter of 2-4 baby squirrels are born. Occasionally litters as small as only one squirrel or as many as six are born; however, this is very rare. The baby squirrels are poorly developed when they are born, weigh about 5-6 grams, and both their eyes and ears are closed. After about 31 days, the eyes and ears open, and after 40 days, the baby squirrels start to explore the world away from their mother.
These squirrels spend most of their time foraging for food and raising their young. The flying squirrel's diet consists of nuts, acorns, fungi, lichens, fruits, buds, sap, and the occasional insect or bird egg. Scientists have found that flying squirrels found along the Appalachians tend to prefer fungi and lichens, whereas flying squirrels found in New England and around the Great Lakes seem to prefer nuts and berries.
Unfortunately, little else is really known about the flying squirrels. Currently there are no habitat conservation plans in place to protect this species, despite the fact that in the 1880s through the 1920s, 500,000 acres of their habitat was destroyed by the lumber industry. There is currently a study being conducted by the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Service to examine the habitat preferences, and distribution patterns of the squirrel. Even though more information is needed to truly understand this squirrel's habits, we must also do something to protect this species from development. Until lawmakers stop giving in to developers, and the suburban expansion is halted, there is very little hope for the survival of this species.
Status of Listed Species and Recovery Plan Development--Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
Flying Squirrel Narrative
Northern Flying Squirrel
Flying Squirrel Study
FWS Species Profile--Virginia Flying Squirrel
Save Blackwater--Flying Squirrel