It is the time of year again when people rush outside during the late hours of the night to witness a grand airshow. It would seem like a safe bet to assume that this annual “air show” would showcase some interesting airplanes doing amazing aerial tricks. However, I am not referring to airplanes, rather I am referring to something much less common–flying squirrels. The late winter marks the flying squirrels mating period, and these squirrels don’t let temperatures of thirty degrees below zero stop them from finding a mate.
The northern flying squirrel is a particular flying squirrel that dwells largely in the upper Midwest, mostly Montana. During mid to late February the northern flying squirrel begins its mating season, which means that the males cannot resist showing off their cool aerial flying tricks in order to impress the females. These aerial maneuvers are erratic enough to make even a human onlooker feel queasy to the stomach. It is not everyday that you see a bird fly the way a northern flying squirrel does every February. Because of this unique spectacle, many citizens from the Midwestern states visit national parks in Montana in order to catch a glimpse of a flying squirrel trying to, well….find a mate.
On any normal night during the flying squirrels mating period each female is escorted through the forest by a large group of males that do not mind sparring for each female’s affection.
Researchers have been under the impression that there is not much more to learn about flying squirrels as they have been subject to several studies in the past describing their anatomy and flight behaviors. However, until recently, experts believed that flying squirrels were passive gliders. In other words, flying squirrels don’t really propel themselves into the air in order to sustain flight; rather they glide from location to location. This common belief within the scientific community changed when researchers decided to take a closer look at the northern flying squirrel.
It was quickly discovered by researchers that flying squirrels possess numerous aerodynamic physical traits that can be modified by the flying squirrels themselves in order to change direction or speed. In fact, in just one single “flying” episode, researches documented twelve different flight-control techniques. In stark contrast to previous scientific beliefs, the flying squirrel is not a “passive” flier at any point during flight; rather the squirrels are in more control of their airborne movements than you would think. Flying squirrels have more aerodynamic modifications than any other gliding animal.
Have you ever spotted a flying squirrel? And if you have did you notice that the flying squirrel was controlling its trajectory? Or did the squirrel appear to be doing nothing more than gliding?