There are several different kinds of flying squirrels found worldwide. Even in the United States, there are several different species. Two types of flying squirrels that are often confused are northern and southern flying squirrels. Comparing the two will help to distinguish Northern from Southern Flying squirrels.
The northern flying squirrel is endangered and found in the Northern states, while the southern flying squirrel is more common in the eastern states. There isn’t much difference between their coat colors, but Northern squirrels are larger. Southern Squirrels breed twice a year, and the northern ones only once yearly.
Northern and southern flying squirrels may seem almost identical to the uninformed observer. However, some notable differences can make it easier to differentiate them.
Let’s take a closer look at these two species, so you can learn how to identify them more easily.
Geographical Range Of Northern Vs. Southern Flying Squirrels
Northern flying squirrels are found in Canada and over the entire northern region of the United States, from the west to the east.
You can find northern flying squirrels in several states, including Alaska, Washington, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Minnesota, and Michigan. However, they’re also located in the Appalachian Mountain Range from New England to North Carolina.
Southern flying squirrels are located in the eastern portion of the United States from north to south.
These squirrels live as far south as Honduras, Mexico, and central South American countries. They extend northwards to south-eastern Canada.
Both northern and southern flying squirrels prefer to live in old, established trees. These trees are more likely to have suitable places for them to nest. In addition, the older trees have more bark variations allowing for better camouflage.
Northern and southern flying squirrels live in deciduous and mixed broadleaf and conifer forests. However, southern flying squirrels show a preference for deciduous forests.
Northern squirrels choose mixed forests if there is an option. They will also nest and live in dense conifer woods.
Coat Variations: Northern Vs. Southern Flying Squirrels
Northern and southern flying squirrels have similar coat colors. Southern flying squirrels have a greyish brown coat on their backs, legs, tail, and top of the head.
Northern squirrels have a tan or cinnamon-brown coat on the dorsal parts of their bodies.
Both southern and northern flying squirrels have creamy-colored undersides.
Southern flying squirrels have pure white hair between their front legs. Northern flying squirrels have hair that is grey at the base and white at the tip between their forelegs.
This difference is difficult to spot from a distance, and the two species may easily be confused when considering coat color alone.
Size of Species
Southern flying squirrels are smaller than northern flying squirrels. The southern squirrels have a maximum weight of two ounces and a length of eight to ten inches.
Northern flying squirrels weigh up to four ounces and are approximately eleven or twelve inches long. Unfortunately, the size difference is not easily noticeable, further increasing people’s confusion about the two species.
Differences In Reproduction
Southern flying squirrel females usually breed two litters a year. They can have up to six babies, but three to five is the more common size for a litter.
Northern flying squirrels only breed once a year. Therefore, their litter size tends to be smaller, with two or three babies being the norm.
The gestation period for southern and northern flying squirrels is forty days. Both species’ babies are hairless, blind, deaf, and helpless. The ears open at two days and the eyes at approximately thirty-two days.
Southern flying squirrel females start breeding between six and nine months of age. Northern flying squirrel females only start breeding in their second year of life.
Female southern flying squirrels are territorial around their nests, while northern flying squirrel females do not show this behavior.
Southern flying squirrels are very vocal, keeping up an almost constant barrage of chirps, whistles, and squeaks.
Northern flying squirrels are a lot quieter than their southern cousins. They make similar sounds to the southern flying squirrels but include whines and chuckles.
Dietary Differences: Southern Vs. Northern Flying Squirrels
Southern and northern flying squirrels eat berries, seeds, nuts, and fungi. In addition, southern flying squirrels eat insects and grubs they find under tree bark. Northern flying squirrels are much less carnivorous and only occasionally eat insects.
To survive the winter, southern flying squirrels collect and store nuts, seeds, and berries. The Northern flying squirrels rely more heavily on conifer cones, lichen, and tree buds during winter.
Fungi form a more significant proportion of the northern squirrels’ diet. They will steal stores of fungi from red squirrels in winter.
Northern flying squirrels tolerate the cold better than their southern relatives. This is because they spend more time on the ground foraging for food, particularly in winter than the smaller southern flying squirrels.
The northern flying squirrel has been endangered since 1985.
Their population decline occurred due to mass deforestation and a marked reduction in conifer stands. In addition, the loss of natural habitat has reduced the number of suitable nesting sites for northern flying squirrels.
Fortunately, the Southern flying squirrels are plentiful and have eluded endangerment.
Their more prolific breeding habits have helped keep the population numbers high. However, they may become threatened if deforestation continues unabated.
Though they are prevalent, flying squirrels have not been able to study them properly, leading to significant gaps in our understanding of these creatures.
We know slightly more about southern flying squirrels than northern flying squirrels, but overall, knowledge is limited.
In regions where southern and northern flying squirrels occur together, the smaller southern squirrels claim the resources, and the northern flying squirrels move away.
More studies are needed to allow conservationists to protect the endangered northern flying squirrels. In addition, the exact populations of southern flying squirrels are unknown, and the effects of urbanization on their populations are not known precisely.
Given that these species are important in maintaining and propagating the ecosystem, it would be prudent to invest in studies on these little rodents.
Southern flying squirrels are smaller and have larger population numbers than the endangered northern flying squirrels.
They are similar species but have different geographical ranges and reproductive behavior. Although southern flying squirrels are smaller, they are more robust survivors than their northern cousins.
Conservationists must take steps to protect both species.
Only then will we truly understand these fascinating creatures, who have been around for millions of years. With the proper protections, these flying squirrels will continue to soar in our forests for generations to come.
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