Printer-friendly page

Southern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomys volans

Image of a flying squirrel flying through the air against a black background. by Lawrence S. Earley
Updated by Christine Kelly
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Creative Commons, Attribution, No derivative works


Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciurdae


Length: From 8 1/2 to 9 7/8 in., including a 3- to 4-in. tail.
Weight: Adults weigh no more than 2 or 3 oz.

PDF Brochure of Southern Flying Squirrel profile by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.Food

Omnivorous. Acorns and nuts carry them through the winter. Fruit, berries, flower blossoms and buds in season. Bird nestlings and eggs, animal carcasses.


Twice a year, in January and February and again in June and July. Not all females breed twice.


Produce 1 to 6 young although the average litter contains two to three young. Gestation is 40 days. They weigh less than a quarter of an ounce at birth. Young can glide in 8 weeks. Squirrels stay with their mother until the next litter is born. Young mature in one year.

Life Expectancy

Up to 13 years in captivity, but rarely more than five years in the wild. Predators include owls, hawks, snakes, bobcats, raccoons, weasels and foxes.

Map of North Carolina labeled "Range Map." The entire state is shaded and it says, "In North Carolina, the southern flying squirrel can be found statewide."Range and Distribution

The southern flying squirrel is found throughout North Carolina, in urban areas as well as in forests, in the lowlands of the Coastal Plain and at elevations up to 4,500-5,000 feet. It ranges along the East Coast, north into southwestern Ontario and south into Mexico. Its close kin, the northern flying squirrel, roams throughout Canada, down into some of our northern states and along the Appalachian spine.

General Information

This diminutive rodent with the big saucerlike eyes is probably the most common mammal never seen by humans in North Carolina. It occupies habitat similar to that of the gray squirrel and, to a lesser extent, the fox squirrel, yet because it is a nocturnal species, it is not seen as often as the other two. It is truly arboreal, gliding from tree to tree on folds of outstretched skin.

Photo of a flying squirrel emerging from a small space.Description

The southern flying squirrel is smaller than its northern cousin and ranks as the smallest of the state’s 5 tree squirrel species, which include the red squirrel, fox squirrel and gray squirrel. It weighs no more than 2 or 3 oz. and measures from 8 1/2 in. to 9 7/8 in., including a 3- to 4-inch-long tail. Its fur is a lustrous reddish brown or gray, although its belly is counter-colored a creamy white.

This squirrel’s most distinctive feature is the cape of loose skin that stretches from its wrists to its ankles and forms the membrane on which it glides. The membrane is bordered in black. When the squirrel stretches its legs to their fullest extent, the membrane opens and supports the animal on glides of considerable distance.

Flying squirrels produce a birdlike chirping sound. Some of their vocalizations are not audible to the human ear.

History and Status

The southern flying squirrel is 1 of 2 flying squirrels found in North America — the other one is the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). A total of 35 species of flying squirrels in the family Sciuridae exists worldwide, most of them in Asian countries. Both southern and northern flying squirrels are found in North Carolina, although the northern flying squirrel is rare, occurring at higher elevations on only 5 or 6 mountain ridges in the western part of the state.

Flying squirrels are a nongame species, but only the Carolina northern flying squirrel is listed as an endangered species by the federal government.

Graphic comparing the size of the Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels. There are two drawings of flying squirrels. One is labeled "Northern Flying Squirrel, 10 1/4 - 12 1/4 in." and the other is labeled "Southern Flying Squirrel 8 1/2-91/2 in."

Photo of a flying squirrel climbing up a tree trunk.Habitat and Habits

Southern flying squirrels live in hardwood and mixed pine-hardwood forests. They require older trees with cavities for roosting and nesting, and in winter readily roost together in surprisingly large numbers. Tree cavities have been found with as many as 50 roosting squirrels. Because of their need for tree cavities for habitat, they are a natural competitor for woodpecker’s homes. Flying squirrels prefer cavities with entrances from 11/2 to 2 in. in diameter but will also customize holes to fit. In Sandhills longleaf pine forests, where suppression of natural periodic fires has allowed scrub oaks to grow in dense thickets, southern flying squirrels have been known to occupy the pine cavities of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

The most distinctive trait of the squirrel is the way it glides from tree to tree. It does not “fly” so much as it parachutes. When it desires to travel about its home range, it climbs to the top of a tree and jumps. The gliding membrane billows up, and by varying the tension on its membrane and using its tail as a rudder, the squirrel can direct its “flight” around branches and other obstacles with remarkable agility. It can turn suddenly at a 90-degree angle to the direction of its glide. The longest flight at one time has been measured at around 200 ft., although typically the distance is much shorter. The flying squirrel lands hind feet first, head up, and scampers to the other side of the tree to avoid detection. It glides downward at about a 30-degree angle. Thus on a long journey, flying squirrels repeatedly climb and glide until they reach their destination. In this way, a flying squirrel is able to cover large distances, exploiting patchily distributed resources. Like other squirrels, the southern flying squirrel can hop from branch to branch and spends considerable time foraging on the ground.

Mothers will move their young if their nest is disturbed. If a nest tree falls, for example, the mother grasps one of her babies by the slack skin of its belly, climbs a tree holding it in her mouth and glides to the new nest location. Returning by the same route, she repeats these steps until all of her young are moved. Males do not assist with the rearing of the young squirrels.

Southern flying squirrels seek nests in hardwood trees that provide cavities, and seeds and nuts. A typical nest will be lined with finely chewed bark, especially cedar bark in the east, and grasses. Lichen, moss and even feathers provide a soft bed. The squirrels are omnivorous. They store hard mast — nuts and acorns — in nests, in tree crevices and on the ground. They also eat fungi, berries, fruits and seeds, flower blossoms and buds in season, and even animal carcasses, bird eggs and nestlings.

People Interactions

Though the nocturnal activities of southern flying squirrels make them hard to detect, they will take up residence in just about any kind of nest box in a suburban setting as long as deciduous trees are nearby. Bluebird boxes attract flying squirrels.


NCWRC Interaction: How You Can Help

Southern flying squirrels are periodically encountered by NCWRC biologists during surveys for red-cockaded woodpeckers in the Sandhills. They are occasionally captured incidentally in squirrel boxes or traps during surveys for the rarer Carolina northern flying squirrel, particularly in the mountains where their ranges overlap. This species does quite well in a variety of habitats and, in general, populations seem to be stable and/or expanding in some areas. In fact, where the two species overlap, southern flying squirrels may actually out-compete northern flying squirrels for available resources. NCWRC biologists are considering management strategies that favor northern flying squirrels and discourage southern flying squirrel encroach ment in appropriate habitat at elevations above 4500 ft.

Southern flying squirrels are also known to take up residence in attics of suburban and rural residences. Although they can make quite a racket, they don’t generally pose any significant problems for the homes they occupy. However, there are many nonlethal and humane exclusion techniques that can be used to evict the squirrels. Contact your local Wildlife Damage Control Agent for suggestions.


Boynton, Allen. “Northern Flying Squirrel,” Wildlife Profiles, Set 5 (N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, 1994).

Earley, Lawrence S. “Tree-top Rivals,” Wildlife in North Carolina, February 1984, pp. 23-27. #

Scheibe, JS, KE Paskins, S Ferdous, and D Birdsill. 2007. Kinematics and functional morphology of leaping, landing, and branch use in Glaucomys sabrinus. J. Mammal. 88(4):850-861.

Webster, David, James F. Parnell and Walter C. Biggs Jr. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland (University of North Carolina Press, 1985).


Photos by Dave Maslowski and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Produced by the Division of Conservation Education, Cay Cross–Editor, Carla Osborne–Designer.

Profile courtesy of NC WINS (NC Wildlife Information Network Share)

Origin - location: 



Hi, I live in Reidsville NC and today a snake fell out of our huge oak tree in our front yard with what looked like a baby squirrel, but after a closer look we knew it wasn’t a baby squirrel but a flying squirrel! We got the squirrel out of the snakes mouth and it had a few scrapes on it’s head but it looked ok. We captured it in a bucket and put it next to the tree it fell from. Now we are wondering where it came from. We have lived here for more than ten years and never knew we had one. Where would it of came from? Hopefully we will get to see this fascinating little fellow again.


Hello we live in Wnc not far from Mount Mitchell an been renting a older house for about 5 years built in 1930's. Well about a week or 2 before Christmas we was up late watching a movie with our young children & when the movie ended i turned around to enter the kitchen i saw something but at the same time my bf was behind it an grabed it real fast with a pair of blue jeans make a long story shorter i freaked out kids though it was so cute, it bit my bf. He released it on the way to work in burnsville. Now tonight 01-03-19 about a hour ago we was onse again watching a late night cartoon movie with the kids i kept hearing something in the chimney witch is closed off ever since we lived here.. sure enough movie ended bf went to walk in the kitchen he saw another flying squirrel!! This time he tried to catch it with a towel but our board of wormy chestnut fell on it an it was bleeding. I think the house we are renting has more than just 2! Kinda freaks me out with my children what should we do?


Hello Therese,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing your recent encounters with these critters. 

If you need help with questions about North Carolina wildlife issues, you may want to contact the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  They have a web page for wildlife problems--  This page includes information for the Wildlife Resources Commission. 


I noticed a small squirrel like creature in my bird feeder at Bethany Beach, Delaware three nights ago. I was amazed at the ease in which it leaped to the feeder, unlike the struggles of the grey squirrels during the day. It returned last night and again tonight. It took me awhile to determine what it was, bigger than a chipmunk, smaller than a red squirrel, nocturnal... We finally decided it had to be a flying squirrel and with additional research, a southern flying squirrel: how fascinating ! I've tried getting a picture, not that easy.


I live in CT & love my flying squirrels. They come out every night. I feed them with a box up on the tree. They wait for me & let me stay & watch them. I could watch them all night long. They are the cutest . But I don't have bluebirds so I am able to enjoy the flyers.


i love this artical too!


I was enjoying watching my back yard bluebird tending to her second brood of eggs. Yesterday she was flying frantically back and forth to the box at 0630. I went to check and there was a flying squirrel in there and it had cracked open and eaten all of the baby bird fetuses. I was so devastated and also very angry. I chased it out and it ran up a tree. How can I get rid of this pest in my back yard? I enjoy my bluebirds and have never seen this type of squirrel before.


Dear Ms. Barbour,

We're very sorry to hear about this tragedy to your bluebird nest.  The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources should be able to help you with backyard pest issues.  

You can contact them toll free at 877-623-6748 and the operator should be able to direct you to the area that handles wildlife nuisance issues.

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and posting your question.  A copy of this reply has also been sent to the email address you provided.

Good luck and best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NCpedia Staff


i love this artical


Today, May 19, 2012, my husband was cleaning out a blue bird house and a flying squirrel came leaping out, glided to the ground and climbed up a nearby tree. Had he know it was nesting he would have left it alone. He recognized it by it's huge, dark eyes and the way it glided to the ground. Should we leave these creatures undisturbed we we notice them again in the nesting boxes we've put up? My husband, since retirement, has found great joy in regularly feeding & providing nesting boxes for the birds that frequent our wooded yard. Thank you for any advice you can offer. Donna Mueller

Comment response:

Thanks for your comment, Donna! I'm forwarding your inquiry to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Their contact information may be found at:


Michelle C. Underhill, Government & Heritage Library

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at