Do Flying Squirrels Really Fly?
There is a type of squirrels that has mastered the art of flight so much that it appears to be flying. These types of squirrels are equal in size but they have adapted certain features that allow them to move in the air for short distances and also for a short period of time. The squirrel does not have any wings like birds and this prevents it from flying. How does the flying squirrel move from one tree to another without flying?
This is a process where the flying squirrel hops from one tree to another at a great speed, and then lands on another tree safely. The process is painless and unconscious since it is also used in emergencies where the animal has to run away from a predator or an enemy. Gliding is not as easy for other animals since they lack the necessary adaptations needed. What are some of these adaptations and how do they aid the flying squirrel in flight?
- The patagium is a furry membrane that resembles a parachute. The membrane starts from the ankles to the wrist of flying squirrels. The membrane is fitted in such a way that it doesn’t disturb the animal when it is walking. Like a parachute, it traps air and therefore helps the animal to move smoothly on the air and also land at a slow speed to avoid any injuries.
- The feet and arms. Although all animals have these limbs, none has mastered the art of using them to change direction while still in the air. Flying squirrels use their limbs to steer themselves in any direction that they need to go to. The limbs are controlled by a set of cartilaginous wrist bones that are small, this allows them to control the speed at which they turn and also when to stop turning.
- The tail is also another important body part that helps the flying squirrel to ‘fly’. Like many flying animals, flying squirrels use their tails to brake before they can land on a tree or any other surface. This ensures that they land at manageable and painless speeds.
- Their feet are well adapted to hold their falling weight as they land. They are also strong enough to allow the animal to leap high into the air at a high speed.
Using these highly adapted parts of the body, flying squirrels can achieve a flight distance of up to 90meters. This is a long distance for an animal that cannot fly and this is the main reason why people mistake this remarkable motion for flight.
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