Flying squirrels are agile, fast creatures that move through trees quickly. Most animals are vulnerable to predators, and flying squirrels are so small that they seem helpless against talons, teeth, and sharp beaks. So are Flying squirrels easy prey for predators, and how do they protect themselves.
Flying squirrels are preyed on by owls, hawks, bobcats, raccoons, weasels, snakes, wolves, and domestic cats. They protect themselves using camouflage and sophisticated communication. They are nocturnal and have large eyes to detect danger. In addition, flying squirrels can change direction mid-flight, making it hard to catch them.
Mother Nature is balanced in all aspects; even little animals, such as flying squirrels, have some defense against predators.
Which Animals Prey On Flying Squirrels?
Flying squirrels are preyed on by a wide variety of predators. Their small size makes them vulnerable to small and large predators.
Flying squirrels are nocturnal, but raptors such as red-tailed hawks, goshawks, and falcons pick flying squirrels off during the day if they locate a squirrel nest.
Occasionally, a flying squirrel might be active in the early morning, and these raptors might catch it as an early morning snack.
Since flying squirrels are active at night, they are susceptible to owl attacks. Barred owls, great horned owls, and screech owls commonly eat flying squirrels.
Bobcats, lynxes, martens, and weasels are nocturnal and climb well. This makes it natural for them to hunt nocturnal, arboreal flying squirrels.
Wolves and coyotes are nocturnal but cannot climb trees.
Flying squirrels come down to the ground to get water and sometimes to forage for food. Unfortunately, their patagium (gliding membrane) makes them clumsy and slow on the ground and an easy meal for wolves and coyotes.
Flying squirrels in suburban areas are often hunted and killed by domestic cats. When the squirrels come down to ground level, dogs may also kill them.
Snakes are another predator that is a threat to flying squirrels. Snakes may even enter a squirrel nest and eat all the babies.
Flying Squirrels Use Camouflage To Protect Themselves
Flying squirrels have greyish-brown coats with black tips to the hair in some body regions. This color is seen on the backs, legs, tails, and tops of their heads.
These hues allow them to blend in with the tree bark.
Their underbelly and underside of the neck are white or cream. The lighter color makes it harder to see them for an animal gazing up into the trees.
The sky and light underside of the leaves allows the flying squirrel’s creamy white abdomen to merge.
Flying Squirrels Communicate To Avoid Predators
Flying squirrels live in large family groups that allow them to protect each other by having many eyes constantly alert for danger. So even if one squirrel is foraging, others in the group will notice a predator approaching.
Flying squirrels have a sophisticated communication system that involves squeaks, chirps, and whistles.
Some of these sounds are in the ultrasonic spectrum, and many predators cannot hear them, allowing the flying squirrels to have a secret alarm system.
Researchers have found that squirrels can communicate what kind of predator is approaching, its direction, and how far away it is.
This information is vital as it allows the flying squirrels to prepare for an aerial attack if it is a bird or get off the ground if it is a larger mammal.
Flying Squirrels Size Aids In Their Protection
Flying squirrels in the USA are tiny creatures weighing two to four ounces. If a climbing predator is hunting them, they can run onto twigs.
The twig holds its minuscule weight but would break with the predator’s weight.
Flying Squirrels’ Night Life Protects Them
Flying squirrels are nocturnal and only become active when total darkness is reached. This protects them from predators that are active during the day.
Many eagles rely on thermals to fly and are diurnal, meaning they seldom encounter flying squirrels.
However, other diurnal raptors need the light for their keen eyesight to be effective, once again protecting the flying squirrels.
Flying Squirrels Vision Protects Against Predators
Flying squirrels have huge eyes. Their enormous pupils allow in as much light as possible at night, giving them excellent night vision.
Their visual superpowers allow them to detect movement and see predators quickly when they approach.
Once the flying squirrels see the predators, they rapidly communicate with all their companions in the area.
Flying Squirrels Flying Ability Keeps Them Safe
Flying squirrels are not true fliers but can glide using their gliding membranes or patagium. They can glide up to ninety-two feet (28 meters) if necessary.
This considerable feat is a good way of escaping harm as most predators cannot match this distance with a leap. In addition, it is an effective means of fleeing from snakes and climbing predators.
Unfortunately, flying squirrels must start from a height to glide. As a result, they are vulnerable if they are on the ground.
They cannot take off and fly like a bird or insect.
Flying squirrels on the ground must escape predators by their ungainly slow run to the trees. Once they reach the trees, their claws are well adapted to climbing, and they can climb to safety.
Flying Squirrels Can Perform Aerial Manoeuvers
Flying squirrels stretch their legs out to tauten their patagium while gliding.
They can precisely control their direction by moving their arms and legs to alter the rigidity of the patagium.
Flying squirrels have a flattened tail that acts as a rudder, increasing their ability to control their direction while gliding.
Lifting the tail up or down and raising the abdomen increases or decreases speed.
These tiny creatures that are not true fliers have developed the astounding ability to change direction 180° mid-flight.
This tactic is useful when avoiding raptors or if a predator unexpectedly appears in their flight path.
Although flying squirrels have both land and aerial predators and may seem too small to protect themselves, they have a surprising array of defensive mechanisms.
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