Flying squirrel
Small Pets

Flying squirrels

Flying squirrel information

The flying squirrels are a type of gliding squirrels belonging to the tribe Pteromyini in the squirrel family Sciuridae. Just like the other squirrels, the flying squirrels are mammals. All species except three are native to Asia.

Just like the Australian sugar glider, the flying squirrel is more of a gliding animal than a flying one. It glides through the air from tree to tree by extending skin flaps located on both sides of its body, so called patagia (sing. patagium). By adjusting the firmness of these skin flaps (a process largely controlled by a small cartilaginous wrist bone), the flying squirrel can steer through the air instead of just falling. The tail is used as a stabilizer during glides and is also helpful when it’s time for the squirrel to “break” and land on a tree trunk.

Even though there are 43 known species of flying squirrel, only a few of them are kept as pets. The by far most commonly kept one is the Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans), a Southern and Eastern United States native. The information regarding flying squirrels found in this article will therefore pertain to the Southern flying squirrel only, unless otherwise specified. 

Flying squirrel taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Subphylum:   Vertebrata
Class:            Mammalia
Order:           Rodentia
Family:          Sciuridae
Subfamily:    Sciurinae
Tribe:             Pteromyini

Thorington and Hoffman (2005) recognize 15 genera of flying squirrels divided into two subtribes
Genera belonging to the subtribe Glaucomyina

  • Eoglaucomys
    - Kashmir Flying Squirrel (Eoglaucomys fimbriatus). Kashmir.
  •  Glaucomys (North American flying squirrels)
    - Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). North America.
    - Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans). North America.
  • Hylopetes
    - Hylopetes 
    - Hylopetes            
      • Hylopetes, seven species, southeast Asia,laredo
      • Iomys, one species, Horsfield's Flying Squirrel, Malaysia and Indonesia
      • Petaurillus (pygmy flying squirrels), three species, Borneo and Malaya
      • Petinomys, nine species, southeast Asia
    • Subtribe Pteromyina
      • Aeretes, one species, the Groove-toothed Flying Squirrel or North Chinese Flying Squirrel (A. melanopterus), northeast China
      • Aeromys, two species, Thailand to Borneo
      • Belomys, one species, the hairy-footed flying squirrel (B. pearsonii), southeast Asia.
      • Biswamoyopterus, one species, the Namdapha flying squirrel, India
      • Eupetaurus, one species, the woolly flying squirrel, Kashmir; rare
      • Petaurista (giant flying squirrels), five species, southeast Asia (including the Japanese giant flying squirrel, the Red giant flying squirrel, and the giant flying-squirrel)
      • Pteromys, two species, Finland to Japan (including the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel)
      • Pteromyscus, one species, the Smoky Flying Squirrel, southern Thailand to Borneo
      • Trogopterus, one species, the complex-toothed flying squirrel, China

Flying squirrel care

Before getting a flying squirrel, it’s important to check laws and regulations applicable for your area. It may be illegal to keep them or special permits may be required to keep, breed and/or transport flying squirrels.

The most commonly kept flying squirrel, Glaucomys volans, can reach a length of 20-25 cm (8-10 in) and normally weighs around 55-120 g (2-4 oz). It is known to bond strongly with humans if raised in captivity and given a lot of time and affection. A bonded flying squirrel is normally fond of climbing around on the shoulders and in the hair of its human keeper. It is a nocturnal species so it can be quite sleepy during the day; ideally keep a sleeping pouch or similar on your chest to which it can retreat if you play with it during the day.

A flying squirrel that is allowed to come out to play and interact with its keeper on a daily basis doesn’t need a very big cage. The higher the cage the better, since squirrels are arboreal and creatures that love to climb and spend time up high. A floor space no larger than 30 cm x 30 cm (2 ft x 2 ft) is okay if the cage is tall and well decorated and the squirrel is allowed to spend time outside it for prolonged periods of time. There must be room for a nest box inside the cage for the squirrel to sleep in, and the cage should also contain branches for climbing and chewing. Ropes are known to be appreciated.

Many flying squirrels like to run in exercise wheels and solid surface wheels tend to be the safest option.

Flying squirrel feeding

Wild Southern flying squirrels are opportunistic omnivores that feed on a long row of different things, chiefly fruits, seeds, nuts and insects. It is therefore important to keep them on a varied diet in captivity to ensure optimal health. Since they feed on insects in the wild they will benefit from live worms, grasshoppers and similar that can be purchased from pet shops or cultivated at home. They also eat protein in the form of hard boiled eggs. Fresh fruits and vegetables should always be served, and seeds and nuts are also highly beneficial. You can for instance get a seed mix for parrots and supplement with various nuts. Hard shelled nuts will give your squirrel an opportunity to chew and keep its teeth in order.  

Unfortunately, calcium deficiency is quite common among captive kept flying squirrels so make sure the diet is rich in calcium and vitamin D3 and not too high in phosphorus. Many keepers supplement the diet with calcium just to be on the safe side, either by sprinkling it over the food or by placing a calcium block in the cage. Mineral blocks can also be beneficial for the long term health of captive squirrels.   

Flying squirrels should always have access to fresh water.   

Flying squirrel breeding

The reproductive habits of flying squirrels vary from species to species, so it’s advisable to seek species specific information.

Flying squirrel facts

Flying squirrel facts # 1
Almost all known species of flying squirrel lives in Asia. The Northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) and the Southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) live in North America, while the Siberian flying squirrel (Pteromys volans) is found in the easternmost parts of northern Europe.

Flying squirrel facts # 2
The largest known species of flying squirrel is the rare Wolly flying squirrel (Eupetaurus cinereus) of Kashmir. Head and body length of this squirrel is 45-60 cm (18-24 in).

Flying squirrel facts # 3
The Southern flying squirrel has been observed gliding as far as 150 feet (over 45 metres).

Flying squirrel facts # 4
In North America, flying squirrels have been kept as pets since before the U.S. declaration of independence.   

Flying squirrel facts # 5
The following animals are frequently confused with the true flying squirrels, since they are small and furry animals capable of gliding from tree to tree. They are not even close relatives of the flying squirrels; the similarity is just the result of convergent evolution.

  • Wrist winged gliders. They belong to the possum family Petauridae and live in Australia and New Guinea. The most well known member of this group is the Sugar Glider which also is a popular pet.
  • Flying lemurs, also known as Cobegos or Colugos. They belong to the family Cynocephalidae and live in South-East Asia. Despite their common name, they aren’t lemurs or closely related to them.  
  • Scaly-tailed squirrels. They belong to the family Anomaluridae and live in central Africa.  

Flying squirrel lifespan

Southern flying squirrels have an average life expectancy of roughly six years in the wild, with very high mortality rates observed among sub-adults. When kept in an environment without any predators, Southern flying squirrels can reach an age of 10-15 years.


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