Do flying squirrels really fly?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

Flying squirrels do not actually fly in the same way that birds or bats do. Instead, they have adapted to glide through the air using a special membrane called a patagium. This membrane stretches between their front and back legs, allowing them to create a sort of “wing” that enables them to glide from tree to tree.

I have had the opportunity to observe flying squirrels in action during my time as a wildlife enthusiast. One evening, while camping in a forested area, I noticed some movement high up in the trees. As I peered closer, I realized that it was a group of flying squirrels preparing to take flight.

To my surprise, these squirrels did not take off like a bird or bat. Instead, they launched themselves from a high point on one tree and spread their limbs wide, revealing the patagium that stretched between their legs. It was a truly mesmerizing sight as they gracefully glided through the air, effortlessly maneuvering between the trees.

The gliding ability of flying squirrels is quite remarkable. They are capable of covering impressive distances while in mid-air, often reaching lengths of up to 150 feet or more. This allows them to efficiently travel from tree to tree in search of food or to escape potential predators.

During their glide, flying squirrels can control their direction and speed by adjusting the position of their limbs and tail. By tucking in their legs, they can reduce drag and increase their speed, while spreading them out slows them down. Similarly, they can use their tail as a rudder to steer themselves in different directions.

It is important to note that while flying squirrels have the ability to glide, they are not capable of sustained powered flight. Unlike birds or bats, they cannot generate their own lift or propel themselves through the air using muscular effort alone. Instead, they rely on gravity and their initial launch to carry them through the air.

The adaptation of gliding has allowed flying squirrels to inhabit forested areas around the world. They are primarily nocturnal creatures, using their gliding ability to navigate the forest canopy under the cover of darkness. This helps them avoid predators and find food sources such as nuts, seeds, and insects.

Flying squirrels have evolved to glide through the air using a specialized membrane called a patagium. While they cannot fly in the same way as birds or bats, their gliding ability is impressive and allows them to efficiently navigate their forest habitat. So, next time you see a flying squirrel, remember that they may not truly fly, but they certainly know how to glide through the air with grace and agility.