Red Giant Flying Squirrels

SCIENCE SKETCH: a quick look at some new science

These are Red Giant Flying Squirrels, and guess what, breaking news! Researchers in the Indian Himalayan rainforest have been watching them glide. Yep, watching nocturnal squirrels glide, in the dark, with night vision binoculars.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel, aka pentagon with feet (Click to enlarge)

Why? you ask. Well, why not? I'd do it. Besides, Red Giant Flying Squirrels are declining in numbers because of forest loss and fragmentation. Obviously to properly manage their habitat, you need to understand their ability to get between two trees.

Turns out these intrepid rodents are jetting through the air at 12-30 mph, and they've got a few different moves. They do an S-shaped glide (leaping up from their perch, dropping, and leveling out) and sometimes a J-shaped one (just dropping and gliding). After short glides they tend to land on vine-covered trees. For long glides they favor broad, bare tree trunks as landing pads.

Distance-wise, most of the 71 glides see in this year-long study were within 165 feet, and the farthest was 341 feet long. Impressive in my book, but nowhere near the distance record from a few decades ago (a 492-foot glide!). Maybe the squirrels aren't making such long glides now because their current forest is denser with smaller trees.

Turning this into a forest management policy will take some more work, but you have to start somewhere. Sign me up for squirrel gliding spectation.

See for yourself! Read the open-access study in Wildlife Biology.
Learn more about Red Giant Flying Squirrels, and watch another kind of squirrel in action: