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Squirrels? Flying? Catawba Biology Professor Documents and Reports His Sighting

August 22, 2014

Category: Biology, Faculty



VIDEO: Southern Flying Squirrel
(First ever recorded in Rowan County)

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Steve Coggin, Associate Provost and Professor of Biology at Catawba, recently documented the occurrence of a flying squirrel in Rowan County, a place these mammals had never been recorded to be.  In a short first-person narrative that he provides, he describes how he "sighted" the nocturnal rodent in his own backyard.

Yes they are, or at least gliding. We have two species of flying squirrels in North Carolina. The northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) is found only at high altitude in the mountains and the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) is found throughout the state. According to N.C. Wildlife, the southern flying squirrel “is probably the most common mammals never seen by humans in North Carolina”.   

Why are they so rarely seen?  Flying squirrels are exclusively nocturnal. They have large eyes befitting their nighttime habits and can be found in forests and suburban neighborhoods.  Flying squirrels will eat nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms, and even bird eggs and nestlings. 

flyingsquirrel.jpgI was lucky enough to have a southern flying squirrel in my yard this summer. Late one night, my wife, Diane, saw some creature eating suet on feeder just outside our front door. She woke me up and we turned on the porch light, shined it with a flashlight and watched it for a few minutes.  It was a southern flying squirrel.  We made several more sightings over the next week. 

Dr. Jay Bolin [a fellow Assistant Professor of Biology at Catawba] told me southern flying squirrels have never been recorded for Rowan County. So I set out to document this common, but rarely seen rodent. I tried photographing it with a digital SLR camera.  But even with flash the images were too dark. Then I bought a game camera. This camera is designed to be left in the woods and take photos, day or night of wildlife as it passes in front of the lens.  I set up the camera in my front yard and immediately started getting flying squirrel pictures and video. Dr. Bolin suggested I submit pictures to the state and record this species for this county.

You can now find a photo record of the southern flying squirrel in Rowan County on the North Carolina Mammals website.

Oh, about the flying. These squirrels are really gliders.  They have loose skin running from their front to their back legs.  The squirrels launch themselves from a tree, extend their legs and the skin spreads out and they can glide up to 200 feet.