Flying squirrels make adorable pet rodents for the right person. Southern flying squirrels are the smallest of the tree squirrels. Their northern cousins, a larger species, are also kept as pets. Southern flying squirrels are primarily nocturnal with large, round eyes that help them see at night. They live in trees and glide from tree to tree, using a flap of furry skin between their legs like a parachute. Southern flying squirrels will spend time with you if there's a pouch or pocket available. If hand-raised, they can form a deep attachment with you.
Common Name: Southern Flying Squirrel
Scientific Name: Glaucomys volans
Adult Size: 8 to 10 inches long, including the tail; weighing between 2 to 4 ounces
Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years in captivity
Southern Flying Squirrel Behavior and Temperament
Like sugar gliders, southern flying squirrels form an intense 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 a pocket in their owner's clothing.
Bonding pouches are essential in helping create a strong attachment 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 spend an entire day sleeping in an owner's pouch or pocket.
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.
If you intend to remain bonded to your pet, then expect your pet will want to be with you all day long. If this time commitment is not possible, get two so that your pet does not get lonely.
Housing the Southern Flying Squirrel
Southern flying squirrels are not large, so they can make do with a reasonably small cage. To thrive, they need room to run and climb. Vertical space is more important than floor space, so a tall cage is best. An enclosure 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.
Southern flying squirrels are excellent chewers, so make sure they cannot chew their way out of their cage (wire or metal is preferred). The floor space of two feet by two feet is adequate. The minimum height should be 3 feet tall, but 5 or 6 feet tall is better.
Provide branches in the cage for climbing and chewing. Cotton ropes hung in the cage also provide an opportunity for climbing and play. Offer nest boxes with facial tissues or paper towels as nesting material (avoid anything with threads that could wrap around a leg and cause injury). Line the bottom of the cage with bedding or litter appropriate for rodents.
A running wheel is good to provide for exercise. A solid-surface wheel is the safest choice for flying squirrels because of their long tails.
Domestic cats can kill or injure southern flying squirrels. If you have a cat in the house, do not let the southern flying squirrel play outside of its cage with the cat in the same room or without close supervision.
Food and Water
In the wild, southern flying squirrels eat a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects. In captivity, they do well with a varied diet that can include:
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Hickory nuts
- Birdseed mixes
- Hamster pellets
- A variety of fresh veggies (corn, sweet potatoes, and portabello mushrooms are popular) and fruit (oranges provide calcium)
- Mealworms and waxworms
In captivity, feed the equivalent of about 1 tablespoon of food in the morning and at night. As they are foragers, you can place food a couple of small cups in areas where you know the squirrel does not regularly defecate. Remove all uneaten food after 12 hours. You can add occasional treats of hard-boiled egg or chicken for more protein in their diet. Southern flying squirrels like to eat moths, too.
Since they are susceptible to calcium deficiency, include a supplement of calcium and vitamin D3 (important in calcium metabolism) with their food. Limit items high in phosphorous since it binds calcium in the body. Provide a calcium block or cuttlebone along with a mineral block. These food supplements double as tooth files since their teeth continuously grow.
Baby squirrels are usually not fully weaned when you get them. You will need to give them goat's milk or a puppy milk replacement formula though a syringe or an eyedropper three times a day until weaned (6 to 8 weeks of age).
Adult southern flying squirrels can have problems with sipper tubes on water bottles, so provide a shallow bowl of clean water available in your squirrel's cage at all times.
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 develop calcium deficiency problems, but a calcium block in the cage can help prevent those issues.
Is It Legal to Own a Pet Southern Flying Squirrel?
Check the legality of keeping southern flying squirrels as pets as the laws vary and change over time. As of 2017, flying squirrels were legal to keep as pets in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington.
If you have a permit or license, you can own a flying squirrel in Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah (Northern Flying Squirrels only), West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Southern flying squirrels are not allowed as pets in Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.
Purchasing Your Southern Flying Squirrel
Before you buy a southern flying squirrel, make sure you have a local exotic veterinarian who can treat your pet if emergencies arise. Exotic veterinarians are often an excellent place to start for a referral for local, verifiable breeders. If these squirrels are local in your area, do not attempt to take one in from the wild. In most cases, it is also illegal to do so.
You will need to devote a lot of time and attention during your bonding time with a young baby squirrel. If you cannot provide undivided attention around the clock, then a flying squirrel is probably not the right pet for you.
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