Flying squirrels are small rodents who make up some of the many species of squirrels found around the world. Though they don’t actually fly, they have membranes that allow them to glide through the air from tree to tree. Two species of American flying squirrel exist, the northern and the southern, and they share many physical characteristics, behaviors and reproductive cycles. Their courtship habits lead to mating and eventually parenting of young.
With large, black eyes and unusual flight membranes, flying squirrels are easily identifiable. Adult American flying squirrels measure about 8 to 11.5 inches long, the southern species slightly smaller than the northern. Their soft, dense fur is gray-brown on top and white on their undersides. Flying squirrels are active and social; they will make their nests in trees with others -- however, females with young will not allow males into their nests.
Flying squirrels lead secretive existences in trees, so little is known about their courtship and mating habits. They are believed to use vocalization and chasing behaviors as they begin their courtship and mating period in late winter and early spring. They make calls resembling chirps as part of their social behaviors, and make louder squeals and other sounds during courtship. As in other types of squirrels, flying squirrels also use chasing behaviors to secure receptive mates.
Once courtship has resulted in a mating pair, the pair remains monogamous through mating season. Flying squirrels are believed to be nonmonogamous outside of the mating season and do not remain with their mates or breed with them again, though a second mating season between the pair may occur in summer. Pregnancy lasts for approximately 40 days, and the breeding female may display signs of aggression.
Only the female parent cares from the young, who typically number three or four to a litter. The female creates a clean nest, of which she is territorial and defensive to protect her tiny young. Young weigh only a few grams at birth and are blind, hairless and helpless. With the mother’s care and weaning, they reach maturity in three months. They may live in the mother’s nest for some time following. They reach sexual maturity after one year and begin their own courtship and mating cycles.
E. Anne Hunter has more than a decade of experience in education, with a focus on visual design and instructional technology. She holds a master's degree in education. Hunter has contributed to several professional publications, covering education, design, music and fitness, among other topics.