A lady flying squirrel will be making her debut this month at Blandford Nature Center, and she’s certain to attract the attention of visitors with her huge brown eyes, charm and poise. You’d say she’s got it all except for one thing – she needs a name.
Found as an injured baby in the backyard of a Grand Rapids residence last August, the Southern female flying squirrel has grown to a full-fledged adult under the care of Wildlife Manager Lori Lomoro and other center staff. She will soon be a companion for Rocky, the male flying squirrel that ‘s been at the center for several years and recently neutered to prevent pregnancies. The pair will be housed at the main center when they aren’t touring local schools as Wildlife Ambassadors.
“Flying squirrels are social animals, so it is great that Rocky will now have a friend to play with, but it wasn’t what we intended,” says Lomoro, who has worked at the center for 16 years and hold a degree in wildlife biology from Grand Valley State University. “We originally had hoped to nurse her back to health and return her to the wild. She was found cold and near death by a resident, maybe the prey of a cat, and now she’s regained her health. But she’s way too used to people to set her free.”
Lomoro explains that it is extremely difficult to nurse a mammal like her back to health without the animal relating to the human caregiver as mother, what is known as imprinting. The task became nearly impossible when she was only nursed by humans, without any contact with her own species. When she is removed from her cage, the flying squirrel immediately will crawl underneath Lomoro’s jersey to engage in a game of hide-and-seek or jump on Lomoro to find a hidden treat such as a peanut.
Southern flying squirrels are common in West Michigan, but they aren’t readily observed because they are nocturnal and smaller than the common tree squirrels. While they can’t fly, the squirrels can glide impressive distances by stretching their front and back limbs wide apart to expose a special membrane called a patagium that acts like a sail, using their flat, wide tail like a rudder. Experts say that the Northern flying squirrels found in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan can glide distances of up to 65 feet from a higher tree trunk to a lower trunk.
Lomoro says people may be able to observe flying squirrels at backyard bird feeders posted near trees during the early morning and late evening hours or at night with the aid of a flashlight. She says deer hunters have told her that they’ve seen the squirrels gliding from tree to tree in early morning hours as they sat in their blinds.
“We will start taking our new friend around on April 23 so that people can see what a flying squirrel looks like,” Lomoro says. “After we introduce her to the community, we’ll be asking for suggestions for her name.”