Flying squirrels (scientifically known as Pteromyini or Petauristini) are a tribe of 44 species of squirrels in the family Sciuridae. They are not capable of flight in the same way as birds or bats but are able to glide from one tree to another with the aid of a patagium, a furry, parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle. Their long tail provides stability in flight. Anatomically they are very similar to other squirrels but have a number of adaptations to suit their life style; their limb bones are longer and their hand, foot bones and distal vertebrae are shorter. While flying they are able to steer and exert control over their glide path with their limbs and tail.
Molecular studies have shown that flying squirrels are monophyletic and originated some 18–20 million years ago. Most are nocturnal and omnivorous, eating fruit, seeds, buds, flowers, insects, gastropods, spiders, fungi, bird's eggs and tree sap. The young are born in a nest and are at first naked and helpless. They are cared for by their mother and by five weeks are able to practice gliding skills so that by ten weeks they are ready to leave the nest.
Flying squirrel Wikipedia
Flying squirrels are not capable of flight like birds or bats; instead, they glide between trees. They are capable of obtaining lift within the course of these flights, with flights recorded to 90 meters (295 ft). The direction and speed of the animal in midair are varied by changing the positions of its limbs, largely controlled by small cartilaginous wrist bones. The wrist is connected to the styliform cartilage, which forms a wing tip used during gliding. After being extended, the wing tip may adjust to various angles, controlling aerodynamic movements. The wrist also changes the tautness of the patagium, a furry parachute-like membrane that stretches from wrist to ankle. It has a fluffy tail that stabilizes in flight. The tail acts as an adjunct airfoil, working as an air brake before landing on a tree trunk.
The colugos, Petauridae, and Anomaluridae are gliding mammals which are similar to flying squirrels because of convergent evolution. These mammals can glide through the trees, but they do not actually fly (like birds and bats). They have a membrane of skin on either side of their body.
Prior to the 21st century, the evolutionary history of the flying squirrel was frequently debated. This debate was clarified greatly as a result of two molecular studies. These studies found support that flying squirrels originated 18–20 million years ago, are monophyletic, and have a sister relationship with tree squirrels. Due to their close ancestry, the morphological differences between flying squirrels and tree squirrels reveal insight into the formation of the gliding mechanism. Compared to squirrels of similar size, flying squirrels, northern and southern flying squirrels show lengthening in bones of the lumbar vertebrae and forearm, whereas bones of the feet, hands, and distal vertebrae are reduced in length. Such differences in body proportions reveal the flying squirrels’ adaptation to minimize wing loading and to increase more maneuverability while gliding.
Several hypotheses have attempted to explain the evolution of gliding in flying squirrels. One possible explanation is related to energy efficiency and foraging. Gliding is an energetically efficient way to progress from one tree to another while foraging, as opposed to climbing down trees and maneuvering on the ground floor or executing dangerous leaps in the air. By gliding at high speeds, flying squirrels can rummage through a greater area of forest more quickly than tree squirrels. Flying squirrels can glide long distances by increasing their aerial speed and increasing their lift. Other hypotheses state that the mechanism evolved to avoid nearby predators and prevent injuries. If a dangerous situation arises on a specific tree, flying squirrels can glide to another, and thereby typically escape the previous danger. Furthermore, take-off and landing procedures during leaps, implemented for safety purposes, may explain the gliding mechanism. While leaps at high speeds are important to escape danger, the high-force impact of landing on a new tree could be detrimental to a squirrel’s health. Yet the gliding mechanism of flying squirrels involves structures and techniques during flight that allow for great stability and control. If a leap is miscalculated, a flying squirrel may easily steer back onto the original course by using its gliding ability. A flying squirrel also creates a large glide angle when approaching its target tree, decreasing its velocity due to an increase in air resistance and allowing all four limbs to absorb the impact of the target.
The largest of the species is the Woolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus). The two species of the genus Glaucomys (Glaucomys sabrinus and Glaucomys volans) are native to North America, and the Siberian flying squirrel is native to parts of northern Europe (Pteromys volans).PliopetauristaPliopetaurista kollmanni Daxner-Höck, 2004
Thorington and Hoffman (2005) recognize 15 genera of flying squirrels in two subtribes.
Tribe Pteromyini – flying squirrelsSubtribe GlaucomyinaGenus EoglaucomysKashmir flying squirrel, Eoglaucomys fimbriatusGenus Glaucomys – New World flying squirrels (American flying squirrels), North AmericaSouthern flying squirrel, Glaucomys volansNorthern flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinusGenus Hylopetes, Southeast AsiaParticolored flying squirrel, Hylopetes albonigerAfghan flying squirrel, Hylopetes baberiBartel's flying squirrel, Hylopetes bartelsiGray-cheeked flying squirrel, Hylopetes lepidusPalawan flying squirrel, Hylopetes nigripesIndochinese flying squirrel, Hylopetes phayreiJentink's flying squirrel, Hylopetes platyurusSipora flying squirrel, Hylopetes siporaRed-cheeked flying squirrel, Hylopetes spadiceusSumatran flying squirrel, Hylopetes winstoniGenus Iomys, Malaysia and IndonesiaJavanese flying squirrel (Horsfield's flying squirrel), Iomys horsfieldiMentawi flying squirrel, Iomys siporaGenus Petaurillus – pygmy flying squirrels, Borneo and the Malay PeninsulaLesser pygmy flying squirrel, Petaurillus emiliaeHose's pygmy flying squirrel, Petaurillus hoseiSelangor pygmy flying squirrel, Petaurillus kinlochiiGenus Petinomys, Southeast AsiaBasilan flying squirrel, Petinomys crinitusTravancore flying squirrel, Petinomys fuscocapillusWhiskered flying squirrel, Petinomys genibarbisHagen's flying squirrel, Petinomys hageniSiberut flying squirrel, Petinomys lugensMindanao flying squirrel, Petinomys mindanensisArrow flying squirrel, Petinomys sagittaTemminck's flying squirrel, Petinomys setosusVordermann's flying squirrel, Petinomys vordermanniSubtribe PteromyinaGenus Aeretes, northeastern ChinaGroove-toothed flying squirrel (North Chinese flying squirrel), Aeretes melanopterusGenus Aeromys – large black flying squirrels, Thailand to BorneoBlack flying squirrel, Aeromys tephromelasThomas's flying squirrel, Aeromys thomasiGenus Belomys, Southeast AsiaHairy-footed flying squirrel, Belomys pearsoniiGenus Biswamoyopterus, India and BangladeshNamdapha flying squirrel, Biswamoyopterus biswasiGenus Eupetaurus, Kashmir; rareWoolly flying squirrel, Eupetaurus cinereusGenus Petaurista, Southeast AsiaRed and white giant flying squirrel, Petaurista alborufusSpotted giant flying squirrel, Petaurista elegansHodgson's giant flying squirrel, Petaurista magnificusBhutan giant flying squirrel, Petaurista nobilisIndian giant flying squirrel, Petaurista philippensisChinese giant flying squirrel, Petaurista xanthotisJapanese giant flying squirrel, Petaurista leucogenysRed giant flying squirrel, Petaurista petauristaGenus Pteromys – Old World flying squirrel, Finland to JapanSiberian flying squirrel, Pteromys volans Pacific coast to the Baltic SeaJapanese dwarf flying squirrel, Pteromys momongaGenus Pteromyscus, southern Thailand to BorneoSmoky flying squirrel, Pteromyscus pulverulentusGenus Trogopterus, ChinaComplex-toothed flying squirrel, Trogopterus xanthipes
Three new species of flying squirrel have been found in the northeastern state of India of Arunachal Pradesh. Their holotypes are preserved in the collection of the Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata, India. These are:Mechuka giant flying squirrel (Petaurista mechukaensis)Mishmi Hills giant flying squirrel (Petaurista mishmiensis)Mebo giant flying squirrel (Petaurista siangensis)
The life expectancy of flying squirrels in the wild is about six years, but flying squirrels can live up to fifteen years in zoos. The mortality rate in young flying squirrels is high because of predators and diseases. Predators of flying squirrels include tree snakes, raccoons, owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, bobcats, and feral cats. In the Pacific Northwest of North America, the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is a common predator of flying squirrels.
Flying squirrels are usually nocturnal, since they are not adept at escaping birds of prey that hunt during the daytime. They eat according to their environment; they are omnivorous, and will eat whatever food they can find. The North American southern flying squirrel eats seeds, insects, gastropods (slugs and snails), spiders, shrubs, flowers, fungi, and tree sap.
The mating season for flying squirrels is during February and March. When the infants are born, the female squirrels live with them in maternal nest sites. The mothers nurture and protect them until they leave the nest. The males do not participate in nurturing their offspring.
At birth, flying squirrels are mostly hairless, apart from their whiskers, and most of their senses are not present. Their internal organs are visible through the skin, and their sex can be signified. By week five, they are almost fully developed. At that point, they can respond to their environment and start to develop a mind of their own. Through the upcoming weeks of their lives, they practice leaping and gliding. After two and a half months, their gliding skills are perfected, they are ready to leave the nest, and are capable of independent survival.
Flying squirrels can easily forage for food in the night, given their highly developed sense of smell. They harvest fruits, nuts, fungi, and birds' eggs. Gliding conserves energy. Many gliders have specialized diets and there is evidence to believe that gliders may be able to take advantage of scattered protein deficient food. Additionally, gliding is a fast form of locomotion and by reducing travel time between patches, they can increase the amount of foraging time.