Iowa's Native Base-Jumper: The Southern Flying Squirrel

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Iowa’s native base-jumper, the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans), is easily identifiable because of the wing-like membrane (patagium) that stretches between the wrists of the front legs to the ankles of the back legs.  This membrane looks like the wingsuit base-jumpers use when gliding through the air. The southern flying squirrel doesn't actually fly.  However, it can glide over 250 feet in one leap!

While somewhat clumsy on land, when airborne the southern flying squirrel is extremely graceful and agile and is capable of making sharp turns to avoid obstacles. When landing, they raise their tails abruptly to change direction vertically and point their limbs forward to create a parachute like effect.  This actually reduces the shock of landing. Once grounded, the squirrels quickly run to cover in order to avoid predators which include owls, raccoons, snakes, hawks, and perhaps the most dangerous, the house cat. They are also recognized by their large eyes, that appear red at night, which helps them see in the dark during their most active period.

Seeing a flying squirrel is a rare thing, partially because of their nocturnal habits, but they are viewed almost nightly here at Wishes for Wildlife Foundation on our Whitetail Ridge property. They fly to a specific oak tree which houses a large jar feeder filled with corn, black oil sunflower seeds and popcorn.  Colleen Koss, creator of the Foundation, remarks: "Flying squirrels are very polite little creatures in the manner in which they eat out of our jar feeders. It reminds me of a beautifully choreographed ballet.  One scurries towards the feeder for a quick snack, then retreats, politely yielding to share the bounty with the next flying squirrel.  Seizing the opportunity, the next scampers up the tree from it's base, enters the feeder and also leaves almost immediately. This routine continues for hours."  Colleen views them by using a spot light specially equipped with a red lens to avoid disturbing their routine.

The southern flying squirrel population is declining in Iowa, and it is therefore deemed as a State Species of Special Concern and a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The main reason that the population numbers are declining is because forests with mature trees and a classic understory of fallen rotting logs, which the squirrel uses for both nesting and food, are being removed. Habitat is lost! However, the population at Wishes For Wildlife's Whitetail Ridge property are actually increasing because we understand their needs and protect them by preserving their habitat. Colleen says, "We leave logs and rotting material where they fall to do our very best to maintain older, natural timbers.  We also build nesting boxes to resemble their preferred nesting sites, which are woodpecker holes!".

We wish to preserve and continue to increase the population of the remarkable southern flying squirrel by expanding our efforts both on Foundation land and other properties. We know that providing additional habitat and preserving what is natural will make a difference. We sincerely wish that others will take notice and will get involved to help us with our quest.