Many arboreal (tree-dwelling) animals have developed wing-like extensions called patagia, which are elastic membranes stretched between their limbs or toes. These flaps of skin are ideal for helping them glide through the air either to evade predators or to catch their own prey.
The southern flying squirrel is a nocturnal rodent capable of taking to the air and gliding from tree to tree in a single leap. The length of a single flight depends on the height at which the squirrel launches, but some can reach distances of up to 50 metres (165 feet). This form of gliding is known as volplaning.
Flying squirrels are found in North America and northern Europe, living in nests or natural cavities high in the trees. When down on the ground, however, they’re a vulnerable target.
Flying squirrels are omnivorous and feast on a wide range of different food from nuts, fruit and fungi to many insects, bird eggs and even carrion from time to time.
Which other animals can glide?
Colugo: Though often called the flying lemur, it’s actually a species of its own. About the size of a squirrel, but with a bat-like look, the colugo has the largest patagia of all gliders.
Length of glide: Up to 70m (230ft)
Paradise tree snake: This reptile can launch itself into the air from a height and flatten its body into a ribbon shape with a concave underside that acts like an airfoil. It still moves in the air in an ‘S’ shape.
Length of glide: Up to 100m (330ft)
Flying frog: This arboreal species has giant webbed feet that act like four airfoils. Flying frogs can be very nimble in flight, capable of banking from side to side like an aeroplane.
Length of glide: Up to 15m (50ft)