Around dusk or dawn, high up in the tree canopy, keen observers might spot a scurry. What’s a scurry? A scurry is a group of flying squirrels (Glaucomys Volans), nocturnal, arboreal mammals, one of the many fascinating facts that captivated 89 attendees at the Feb. 17 Zoom meeting of the Friends of Dyke Marsh.
Naturalist Kim Young, from Fairfax County Park Authority’s Hidden Oaks Nature Center, told the group that flying squirrels, members of the rodent family, weigh around 2.5 ounces, about the same as a cellphone, and are eight inches long, with their tail being from a third to a half of that length. With gray-brown fur, they easily camouflage against tree trunks. They have a white belly and large eyes in proportion to their bodies. They can walk upside down and “stamp their feet in a war dance” if they sense a predator nearby, Young said.
Flying squirrels prefer heavy deciduous, forested areas for both food sources and sites for tree cavity nests. Trees like oaks and hickories with few owls provide good habitat, she said. Leave your tree snags, she advised, calling them “animal hotels.”
Young also urged her audience to plant native plants and trees, keep cats indoors and provide roosting boxes.
These squirrels eat nuts in the fall and winter and store nuts in nests, cracks, cavities and tree forks, caches with up to 15,000 nuts in a season. A telltale sign of flying squirrels is the acorn debris they leave behind. Flying squirrels make a round oval hole in the acorn when they probe for nutmeat and beetle larvae, unlike other rodents that completely destroy acorns. “They make a smooth cut with no jagged edges,” Young said. They are omnivores and also eat berries, insects, fungi, bird eggs, slugs, snails, carrion and tree sap. Their most common predators are owls, feral cats and hawks.
Flying squirrels likely have multiple mates and have two breeding seasons, January to April and June to August. The females, called does, are highly territorial and have two-three kits per litter. The males, called bucks, are derelict dads. They don’t help raise the young.
“They’re the cutest little mammal I’ve ever seen, charismatic,” Young told the Dyke Marsh group. “They remind you of what an incredible world we have.”
The meeting was sponsored by the Friends of Dyke Marsh, www.fodm.org.