Photo: Jonathan Mays (Enlarge picture)
Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus coloratus
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Species Profile (PDF)
Carolina northern flying squirrel (Photo: Clifton Avery)
Carolina northern flying squirrel in a squirrel box (Photo: Christine Kelly)
Listen to the trill of a Carolina northern flying squirrel
Listen to an upsweep call of a Carolina northern flying squirrel
Listen to the call of a Carolina northern flying squirrel
The Carolina northern flying squirrel is one of two species of flying squirrel in North Carolina (the other is the southern flying squirrel). Contrary to their name, flying squirrels do not truly fly. Rather, they leap from trees using their powerful hindquarters, stretch out their limbs, and glide to the ground or nearby trees. A cape of skin that stretches from their wrists to their ankles, called a patagium, acts as a wing-like surface as they glide downwards. Flying squirrels drop about a foot for every three feet of forward glide.
The flying squirrel’s most distinctive feature is its patagium. Carolina northern flying squirrels have bright cinnamon-brown fur dorsally, gray fur around the face and the end of the tail, and bicolored fur on the belly (gray at the base and creamy white at the tip of each hair). The squirrel has a long, flat, furred tail. The Carolina northern flying squirrel resembles the smaller, more common southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) but is nearly twice as large. While there is some elevational overlap in their range between 4,000 to 5,000 feet, Carolina northern flying squirrels are restricted to the highest elevations while southern flying squirrels are found most commonly at lower elevations.
Learn more by reading the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel species profile.
The Carolina northern flying squirrel is a nongame animal with no hunting or trapping season. It is federally and state-listed as Endangered.
State and federally listed endangered species are defined as native or once-native species whose continued existence as a viable component of the state’s fauna is determined by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (state listed) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (federally listed) to be in jeopardy or any wild animal determined to be an “endangered animal” pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
Listed species cannot be collected or taken except under a special permit issued by the Wildlife Commission’s Executive Director.
Carolina northern flying squirrels are rare enough in North Carolina that they seldom cause nuisance issues. Like their more common relative, the southern flying squirrel, issues typically only arise when they get into homes. If you live at an elevation of 5,000 ft. or higher and suspect that you have squirrels in your home (usually in the attic), it is recommended to contact a professional for assistance. They will be able to identify the species for you and provide help that will not cause damage to the squirrels. If you need help locating a professional in your area, call the NC Wildlife Helpline at (866) 318-2401.
Biologists first discovered the Carolina northern flying squirrel in North Carolina in the early 1950s. When the federal government listed it as Endangered in 1985, funds became available to study its distribution. This species inhabits eight mountain ranges in North Carolina: Long Hope, Roan, Grandfather, and the Black-Craggy Mountains north and east of the French Broad River Basin, and Great Balsam, Plott Balsam, Smoky, and Unicoi Mountains south and west of the French Broad River Basin. Recently, it has been documented in a ninth mountain range, Unaka Mountain.
Northern flying squirrels vocalize, though some calls are at a higher register than human ears can detect. NCWRC biologists are now using ultrasound detectors to document the presence of Carolina northern flying squirrels. In addition, NCWRC and the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative are working to restore the squirrel’s forest habitat.
To keep up-to-date with Carolina northern flying squirrel work, read the Wildlife Diversity Program's Quarterly Reports.
Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel Species Profile (PDF)
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports
Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina Listings (PDF)