04.21.08–Athabascan Word of the Week–Northern Flying Squirrel


Flying Squirrel: Ch`its`idoluhja = Upper Kuskokwim Dialect

Red Squirrel: dilja = Upper Kuskokwim Dialect

Ground Squirrel: Konsa = Upper Kuskokwim Dialect

Northern Flying Squirrel: Glaucomys sabrinus.

Order: Rodentia (gnawing mammals).

Family: Sciuridae (squirrels).

Range and Habitat: south central and southeastern Alaska; in coniferous forests.

Size and Weight: 10 inches, 3 ounces.

Diet: bark, fungi, lichen, insects, and birds’ eggs.

Sounds: generally silent, makes a ‘click’ sound when landing on a tree.

Many people in Alaska are unaware of the northern flying squirrel’s presence. These aerial creatures sleep all day and go about their activities at night. A silky–gray, fur–covered membrane extends between the animal’s front and hint paws. Add to this its flattened tail, which acts like a rudder, and you have a square–shaped creature well adapted for hang-gliding from tree to tree or tree to ground.

If you happen to knock against or cut down one of the hollow trees in which this species is fond of nesting, and if the squirrel that runs out is small and a medium grayish brown, it’s likely you’ve had a rare glimpse of a flying squirrel.

During summer, flying squirrels don’t leave much evidence of their passage. They live mostly in trees, using the fur–covered membrane that extends along each side of the body from the front to the rear legs to glide between trees and occasionally from tree to earth, where they usually leave no marks on the ground cover of their forest habitat. On snow, however, their tracks can be identified because they lead away from what looks like a miniature, scuffed snow–angel, the pattern left when a flying squirrel lands at the end of the aerial descent. The tracks may wander around a bit if the squirrel has foraged for morsels, but they will lead back to the trunk of a nearby tree before long.

Cited From: Animal Tracks of Alaska, written by Chris Stall, published by The Mountaineers, 1993.


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