Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

Carolina northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

Northern flying squirrel. Credit: USFWS

Northern flying squirrel. Credit: USFWS

Federal Status: Endangered, July 1, 1985

Description: There are two species of flying squirrels in the Southern Appalachians – the northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern (Glaucomys volans). Northern flying squirrels are about one-third larger than the very common southern species. Also, northern flying squirrels are brown on their backs, and their fur fades to a buff white on the belly. Southern flying squirrels are more gray on their backs with bright white bellies, and a clearly defined (usually black) line separates the fur colors. The endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel is a subspecies of the northern flying squirrel.

Flying squirrels are nocturnal and have large eyes to help them see at night. They cannot actually fly, but glide by extending a fold of skin that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. The flattened tail acts as a rudder. Carolina northern flying squirrels are relicts of the last ice age. As the glaciers retreated northward and temperatures rose, remnant populations remained in the suitable habitat left behind on the high mountain tops along the ridges of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Northern flying squirrels principally feed on certain fungi and lichens, though they do occasionally eat some fruits and nuts. They’re active year-round, but more so in the warmer summer months. They nest in tree cavities in nests made almost exclusively of Yellow birch bark, where two to six young are born in early spring. Groups of squirrels often occupy the same tree cavity, particularly in the colder winter months.

Habitat: Northern flying squirrels are typically found in areas where northern hardwoods, such as Yellow birch, are adjacent to the higher-elevation Red spruce-Fraser fir forest. These habitats are often moist and cool. Southern flying squirrels are most often found in the warmer and drier mixed oak-pine forests of lower elevations.

map of Carolina northern flying squirrel distribution in North Carolina

Map of Carolina northern flying squirrel distribution in North Carolina.

Distribution: Carolina northern flying squirrels are found on high mountain peaks in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee.

Threats: The limited and discontinuous range of this sub-species in the Southern Appalachians makes it vulnerable to a number of natural and human-related impacts. Human impacts far outweigh natural threats and include habitat destruction and fragmentation or other alterations associated with the clearing of forests, introduced exotic pests, recreational and residential development, and pollution (heavy metals and acid rain).

References:

LeGrand, Jr., H.E., J.T. Finnegan, S.E. McRae, S.P. Hall. 2010. Natural Heritage Program List of the Rare Animal Species of North Carolina. N.C. Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh, NC.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1990. Appalachian Northern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus and Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus) Recovery Plan. Newton Corner, MA. 53 pp.

For More Information on Carolina northern flying squirrel...

Species Contact:

Sue Cameron, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 828-258-3939 ext. 224

Species profile revised on September 22, 2011.

Last Updated: November 1, 2012