Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus & G. volans)
(Photo by James Heinzmann)
Although they can be found throughout the state, few people have had the opportunity to view Michigan's most elusive mammal, the flying squirrel. Two species of flying squirrels are found in the state. The northern flying squirrel (G. sabrinus) inhabits the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas, while its close relative, the southern flying squirrel (G. volans), inhabits the southern Lower Peninsula.
Flying squirrels are entirely nocturnal, inhabiting mature forests and parks, as well as other woodlands. They utilize the many cavities that are found in mature trees for nesting and winter denning. Unlike bats, flying squirrels do not really fly. They have a loose membrane of furred skin attached between their front and back legs. The membrane helps these squirrels glide from tree to tree.
Flying squirrels readily visit bird feeders. One way to view these creatures after dark is to use a red light to illuminate the feeder. The red light does not bother the feeding squirrels but allows you to see their activity after dark.
While relatively abundant, researchers have been noticing a change. Northern flying squirrels are no longer being found in their historic range. Yet researchers are finding not only higher numbers of flying squirrels but in areas they had not been found previously.
The question for researchers is why it seems that the northern flying squirrel population is retreating while the southern flying squirrel is increasing. Some evidence suggests that the continued existence of the northern flying squirrel in the Lower Peninsula is at risk.
Researchers from Michigan State University will be establishing survey plots to document the range of the two species and compare this to historical information, as part of a project funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.
Glaucomys sabrinus (University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology)
Glaucomys volans (University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology)
Southern Flying Squirrel (Nebraska Game & Parks Commission)