Flying squirrels are known throughout the world, in sizes tiny, like the North American native, Glaucomys volans, described here; and large, like several of the cat-sized Asian giant flying squirrels, found in China, Afghanistan, India and Indonesia. In Asia, particularly in Japan, the old world flying squirrels, Pteromys volans and Pteromys momonga, are kept in domestic settings. In eastern Europe, the Pteromys volans occurs naturally only in Finland, and keeping this endangered species as a domestic companion is prohibited.
In North America, the flying squirrel has been kept as a domestic friend since colonial times. They are well suited to human companionship, as they are content to sleep in a pocket or shirt all day, coming out to play during the evening, when their human is likely indoors, where the flyer is confined. Once imprinted on a human, they clearly delight in being with that human, even if they have others of their own kind with whom to play. They will often provide great fun and amusement, as they jump from their human to others, and then back, ducking in and out of pockets in search of treats and treasures. Their large dark sparkling eyes, and expressive faces, employing the ears and the tilt of the head to communicate, as well as various body positions, make these little squirrels a delight. They are seldom argumentative, but at their fiercest, will occasionally bite, and draw blood, as would a thorn from a rose. They will also bite as a form of communication, but such behaviour is easily corrected with consistent gentle enforcement of confinement for ill-mannered behaviour, and verbal praise and occasional treats as reward for friendly behaviour. These are gregarious creatures, and benefit from nightly interaction with their human friends. Even wild flying squirrels will learn to come to a feeding station, and will often become friendly enough, and daring enough, to accept peanuts and pecans from hand, perhaps even alighting upon one's shoulder, or torso, to hang upside down, while eating the offering.
Southern Flying Squirrels have somewhat limited production, for rodents, but the fairly common two litters per year of several other arboreal squirrels. They are susceptible to numerous predators, and to several health compromising conditions, such as internal parasites and various bacteria, viruses and protozoa. For the most part, however, illness is not the killing factor. By far, predation limits the numbers of this beautiful squirrel; few live in the wild beyond 5 years. Indeed, the flying squirrel is considered a "keystone" animal, in many regions, for many other species, especially owls, feed on flying squirrels. As nocturnal creatures, these squirrels can suffer from a calcium deficiency in their diets, both in the wild and in domestic situations. The lack of sunlight means their bodies cannot always provide the necessary vitamin D3 for calcium absorption. In domestic settings, this problem can be overcome by providing a vitamin D3 source, together with a well balanced diet, perhaps supplemented with a calcium block. A flyer with a carefully maintained nutritional programme, and little stress from predation, can live for 8 to 15 years.
Sadly, in domestic settings, these curious squirrels often meet their demise in unexpected ways - drowning in toilets, sinks, reservoirs of dehumidifiers, and other vessels of water (even leaving a bucket of water, from a cleaning job, or a glass pitcher of lemonaide on a counter, can represent death, to a household flyer.) The kitchen, the laundry/utility room, and the bathroom represent the greatest risks, to a flyer; but doors closing unexpectedly have killed many, and their gnawing behaviour has caused the occasional electrocution, or poisoning. Because of these many dangers, it is often wise to make one room the domestic flyer's domaine, rather than allow a free-range of the entire house.
Some Children's Fiction Suggestions:
Smallest Brownie and the Flying Squirrel by Gladys L. Adshead The Animals' Ballgame by Lloyd Arneach Flippy and Skippy by Donn Crane Hide and Go Seek by Dorothy P. Lathrop Federico the Flying Squirrel by Tony Palazzo Night Gliders by Joanne Ryder The music on this page is Claude Debussy's 'Reverie' The illustration above is Louis Agassiz Fuertes 'Flying Squirrel'
The Animals' Ballgame by Lloyd Arneach
Flippy and Skippy by Donn Crane
Hide and Go Seek by Dorothy P. Lathrop
Federico the Flying Squirrel by Tony Palazzo
Night Gliders by Joanne Ryder
The music on this page is Claude Debussy's 'Reverie'
The illustration above is Louis Agassiz Fuertes 'Flying Squirrel'