The flying squirrels, scientifically known as Pteromyini or Petauristini, are a tribe of squirrels (family Sciuridae). There are 43 species in this tribe, the largest of which 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).
The term flying is somewhat misleading, since flying squirrels are actually gliders incapable of true flight. Steering is accomplished by adjusting tautness of the patagium, largely controlled by a small cartilaginous wrist bone. The tail acts as a stabilizer in flight, much like the tail of a kite, and as an adjunct airfoil when "braking" prior to landing on a tree trunk.
Though their life expectancy is only about six years in the wild, flying squirrels often live between 10 and 15 years in captivity. This difference is due to these creatures being important prey animals. Predation mortality rates in sub-adults are very high. Predators include arboreal snakes, raccoons, nocturnal owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, and the domestic house cat. In the Pacific Northwest of North America, the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) is a well-known predator. They are also nocturnal.
They have been kept as pets since the US colonial era.
Flying squirrels are mammals.
Thorington and Hoffman (2005) recognize 15 genera of flying squirrels in two subtribes.
- Tribe Pteromyini - flying squirrels
- Subtribe Glaucomyina
- Eoglaucomys, one species, the Kashmir Flying Squirrel (Eoglaucomys fimbriatus).
- Glaucomys (American flying squirrels), two species, the Northern flying squirrel and the Southern flying squirrel, North America
- Hylopetes, seven species, southeast Asia
- 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
Popular culture reference
The following are sometimes confused with flying squirrels:
Similarities between them result from convergent evolution.
For a general overview of all flying and gliding mammals see:
- Thorington, R. W. Jr. and R. S. Hoffman. 2005. Family Sciuridae. Pp. 754-818 in Mammal Species of the World a Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder eds. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.