Flying squirrels don’t really fly, they glide.
Bay Buddies / By Kathleen Gaskell - Bay Journal
Most people know that flying squirrels don’t really fly, they glide. What most people don’t know is how the squirrel “steers” its gliding flight. Many people—and even guide books—will tell you that the squirrel uses its tail as a rudder. This is not true. Another body part controls the glide and the tail has other important uses. Here is a list of 12 parts of the flying squirrel’s body. Can you match them up with their function?
Skull & Teeth
1. This is the fancy name of the membrane or fold of skin between the flying squirrel’s front and back legs that allows it to glide.
2. These are often the only part of the earliest flying squirrels found in the fossil record. From them, we know that flying squirrels are the oldest living line of modern squirrels.
3. These help to make the gliding membrane more aerodynamic.
4. This breaks off easily, helping the flying squirrel to escape predators. It also helps to stabilize the squirrel’s flight and helps to “brake” the flight just before the animal lands on a tree trunk.
5. These are black and larger on flying squirrels than any other squirrel.
6. This is what “steers” the squirrel in its flight by adjusting the tautness of the membrane that the animal uses to glide.
7. These are several inches long, the longest of any other squirrel. Flying squirrels are known to close their eyes when landing in thicker underbrush. It is thought that these, which are attached to nerve bundles under the skin, help the animal sense its surroundings without having to open its eyes and thereby risk injuring them on protruding vegetation.
8. These are what hold onto food when the squirrel is gliding or running. They are also used for grooming and moving pups.
9. These lay on top of and protect the insulating hairs.
10. These keep the squirrel warm by trapping layers of air.
11. These are what launch the squirrel into its glide. They are extremely powerful for their size.
12. These contain scent glands that mark the squirrel’s territory.
Flying squirrel fans: Check out www.flyingsquirrels.com/Kids/index.html. Visitors can download a picture of two southern flying squirrels to color as well as a full-color, 3-D paper flying squirrel to put together!
Kathleen A. Gaskell, the layout & design editor for the Bay Journal, has been involved with several environmental programs for children.
Quiz from Bay Journal - Feb 2007
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