March 6, 2014

The Animal Tracks Revealed

The mystery tracks from last week belonged to... a northern flying squirrel!  This is an animal that definitely “flies under the radar” in the Canadian Rockies, as it is completely nocturnal.  We've seen three in all our years here.  Even the tracks are extremely rare, as flying squirrels spend almost all of their time in the trees.

Flying squirrels can't really fly, but they can glide long distances, using a flap of skin between the front and
back legs as a kind of kite.  On average, a flying squirrel can travel at least three times the distance it drops in height, so if it starts up high, it can glide a long distance.  The maximum glide distance we could find evidence for was 45 metres, or 150 feet, from researchers at Mount Allison University.

Flying squirrels in the Canadian Rockies spend the winters feasting on lichen, especially the brown hair lichen you see in our older forests.  For roosting, they use cavities in trees, using the lichen as a bedding material, which sounds pretty clever to us.  When it gets really cold, they will roost together, as many as a dozen flying squirrels packed into the same hole.

Hair lichen, the favourite food
of flying squirrels during the winter
Believe it or not, in the 1950s, you could mail order a pet flying squirrel from “Greeson's Flying Squirrel Ranch.”  This we gleaned from a superb website about flying squirrels, called – what else? –