Flying squirrels make adorable pet rodents for the right person. They are the smallest of the tree squirrels. Besides their unique movements, flying squirrels are recognizable by their large eyes, grey or chestnut body, and a white belly. They are primarily nocturnal, so their large eyes help them see at night.
Southern flying squirrels are found in the wild throughout the Southern and Eastern United States. They live in trees, like other squirrels, and glide downward from tree to tree using a special membrane between their legs called a patagium. Like sugar gliders, flying squirrels form a deep attachment to their owners when they're raised from birth. These are high-maintenance pets that require a lot of daily attention, so it is advisable to have two so that they don't get lonely.
Common Name: Southern Flying Squirrel
Scientific Name: Glaucomys Volans
Adult Size: The Southern flying squirrel's body is 8 to 10 inches long, including the tail. The animal's tail can be almost half of its length. It weighs between 2 to 4 ounces.
Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years in captivity
Difficulty of Care: Advanced. Primarily nocturnal, Southern flying squirrels can spend time with you if there's a pouch or pocket available. If not hand reared, they can be skittish and bite.
Behavior and Temperament
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 the human is a tree). They will feel quite comfortable and safe hiding in sleeves or sleeping in a pocket in their owner's clothing. 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 they are 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. It is rare to see them in the wild since they move so quickly and are very shy.
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 two feet by two 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.
Domestic cats can be quite dangerous to the Southern flying squirrel. If you are planning on having multiple animals, do not let the Southern flying squirrel play outside of its cage without close supervision.
Food and Water
In the wild, Southern flying squirrels eat a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects. In captivity, they seem to do well with a varied diet that can include:
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Hickory nuts
- Birdseed mixes
- A variety of fresh veggies (corn and sweet potatoes are popular) and fruit
- Mealworms and waxworms
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.
Common Health Problems
Southern flying squirrels do not need any routine vaccinations and are not susceptible to any well-known diseases. It is common for them to have calcium deficiency problems, but a calcium block in the cage will help prevent this.
Are They Legal to Own?
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.
Purchasing Your Southern Flying Squirrel
If a Southern flying squirrel is legal in your area, it's best to purchase a young squirrel from a reputable source. You'll need to be very present as you bond with the baby squirrel, which will require daily attention. If you cannot provide that, it's probably not the right pet for you. An exotic veterinarian or exotic pet store can help locate a breeder or verifiable source.
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Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.