Southern flying squirrels are adorable pet rodents that have the unique ability to glide through the air, just like sugar gliders. They can be found wild in the United States and can make a good pet for the right person. They grow to be 8-10 inches (including the tail which can be almost half this length) and 2-4 ounces in weight (smaller than northern flying squirrels)
Southern Flying Squirrels in the Wild
Southern flying squirrels are found throughout the southern and eastern United States. They live in trees like other squirrels and glide downward from tree to tree using their special patagium (a membrane) between their legs.
Southern Flying Squirrel Legal Status as Pets
You must check the legality of keeping southern flying squirrels as pets as the laws vary in different states, provinces, and countries. Especially in areas where they are native, it may be illegal to keep them as pets, or a permit may be required.
Southern Flying Squirrel Behaviors
Southern flying squirrels form a very deep bond with their owners if acquired at a young age from a breeder. They are usually quite happy to spend time climbing and playing on their owner (as though we are a tree) or sleeping in a pocket. Bonding pouches are very important in helping create a strong bond between an owner and a southern flying squirrel and are often used throughout the life of the squirrel. Even though they are primarily nocturnal, southern flying squirrels can still adapt to spending time with their owners during the day if provided with a pouch or pocket for sleeping.
Squirrels that are not hand reared or handled much may bite if scared and are very fast and skittish. It can be nearly impossible to tame a wild, adult southern flying squirrel.
Feeding Southern Flying Squirrels
In the wild, southern flying squirrels eat a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects. In captivity, they seem to do well with pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, bird seed mixes, and a variety of fresh veggies (corn and sweet potatoes are popular) and fruit. Mealworms and waxworms can also be offered and occasional treats of hard-boiled egg or chicken can add a bit of protein to the diet. Southern flying squirrels are said to love moths, too.
Since they are susceptible to calcium deficiency, a supplement of calcium and vitamin D3 (important in calcium metabolism) should be used on southern flying squirrel food. Items high in phosphorous should be limited as well since phosphorous binds calcium in the body. A calcium block or cuttlebone should also be provided in the cage, along with a mineral block. These will double as tooth files (since their teeth continuously grow) and supplements.
Southern Flying Squirrel Cages
Since southern flying squirrels are not large they can make do with a fairly small cage but to thrive they need room to run and climb. Vertical space is more important than floor space though, so a tall cage is best. A cage designed for sugar gliders can work well, as long as the spacing in the mesh is narrow (1/2 inch by 1 inch at most). Some owners find that a homemade cage works well too. Keep in mind that southern flying squirrels are excellent chewers, so make sure they cannot chew their way out of their cage (any wood or plastic should be covered with wire). Floor space of 2 feet by 2 feet is adequate, but the taller the cage, the better.
Provide branches in the cage, for both climbing and chewing. Cotton ropes hung in the cage also provide an opportunity for climbing and play. Nest boxes should be provided along with facial tissues or paper towels as nesting material (avoid anything with threads that could wrap around and damage a leg). The bottom of the cage can be lined with bedding or litter appropriate for rodents.
Southern flying squirrels have been known to have problems with sipper tubes on water bottles so make sure you have a shallow bowl of clean water available in your squirrel's cage at all times.
A running wheel is also recommended for exercise. A solid surface wheel is the safest choice for flying squirrels because of their long tails.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT