Flying squirrels make adorable pet rodents for the right person. Southern flying squirrels are the smallest of the tree squirrels, but their northern cousins (a larger species) are also kept as pets. Southern flying squirrels are primarily nocturnal, with large, round eyes that help them see at night. They live in trees and glide from tree to tree, using a flap of furry skin between their legs like a parachute. Southern flying squirrels will spend time with you if there's a pouch or pocket available and, if raised from a young age, they can form a deep attachment with you.
Common Name: Southern flying squirrel
Scientific Name: Glaucomys volans
Adult Size: 8 to 10 inches long, including the tail; between 2 to 4 ounces
Lifespan: 10 to 15 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Southern Flying Squirrel?
Check the legality of keeping a southern flying squirrel as a pet in your state, as the laws vary and change over time. Even if owning one is legal where you live, you may be required to acquire special permitting or paperwork in order to validate your ownership. Be sure to explore all legal stipulations before acquiring a southern flying squirrel as a pet—the last thing you want is having your pet taken away from you due to illegal ownership.
When it comes to ethically owning a southern flying squirrel, a lot of it comes down to both how you source your pet and whether you can properly care for it. Beyond ensuring that you go to a reputable breeder, you should make sure you can provide your squirrel with everything it needs to not just survive but thrive under your care. This includes everything from time and attention to the financial ability to buy what you need for it. Additionally, southern flying squirrels can be injured or even killed by other pets (especially cats) so do not get one if you have a mischievous pet in the home.
Southern Flying Squirrel Behavior and Temperament
Like sugar gliders, southern flying squirrels form an intense bond with their owners if they're acquired at a young age. They are usually quite happy to spend time climbing and playing on their owner, almost as though you're a human tree. They'll even seek out safety and comfort in the sleeves or pockets of your clothing.
Bonding pouches are essential in helping create a strong attachment between an owner and a southern flying squirrel and are often used throughout the life of the squirrel. Even though they are primarily nocturnal creatures, southern flying squirrels can spend an entire day sleeping in an owner's pouch or pocket. If you intend to remain bonded to your pet, expect your pet will want to be with you all day long. If this time commitment is not possible, get two squirrels so that your pet does not get lonely.
Squirrels that are not hand-reared or handled much may bite if scared and can be very fast and skittish. It can be nearly impossible to tame a wild, adult southern flying squirrel—in fact, it's is rare to even see them in the wild, since they move so quickly and are very shy.
Southern flying squirrels are not large, so they can make do with a reasonably small cage. However, they will need ample room to run and climb in order to thrive. Vertical space is more important than floor space, so a tall cage is best. An enclosure designed for sugar gliders can work well, as long as the spacing in the mesh is narrow (1/2-inch by 1-inch at most). Some owners find that a homemade cage works well too.
Southern flying squirrels are excellent chewers, so make sure they cannot bite their way out of their cage (wire or metal is preferred). A floor space of 2-feet by 2-feet is adequate and the minimum height should be 3 feet tall (but up to 5 or 6 feet tall is even better).
Provide your squirrel with branches in their cage for climbing and chewing. Cotton ropes hung in the cage can also provide an opportunity for climbing and play. A running wheel is good to provide for exercise. A solid-surface wheel is the safest choice for flying squirrels because of its long tails.
Specific Substrate Needs
Offer nest boxes with facial tissues or paper towels as nesting material (avoid anything with threads that could wrap around a leg and cause injury) and line the bottom of their cage with bedding or litter appropriate for rodents.
What Do Southern Flying Squirrels Eat & Drink?
In the wild, southern flying squirrels eat a variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, and insects. In captivity, they do well with a varied diet that can include nuts (pine nuts, pecans, walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), birdseed mixes, hamster pellets, mealworms, moths, waxworms, and a variety of fresh veggies (corn, sweet potatoes, mushrooms).
In captivity, feed your pet the equivalent of about 1 tablespoon of food in the morning and at night. Because they are foragers, you can place food in a couple of small cups in areas where you know the squirrel does not regularly defecate so they can seek it out. Remove any uneaten food after 12 hours. You can add occasional treats of hard-boiled egg or chicken for more protein in their diet.
Since southern flying squirrels are susceptible to calcium deficiency, include a supplement of calcium and vitamin D3 (important in calcium metabolism) with their food. Limit items that may be high in phosphorous, since it binds calcium in the body. Provide a calcium block or cuttlebone along with a mineral block. These food supplements double as tooth files since their teeth continuously grow.
Baby squirrels are usually not fully weaned when you get them. You will need to give them goat's milk or a puppy milk replacement formula through a syringe or an eyedropper three times a day until they're completely weaned (around 6 to 8 weeks of age). Adult southern flying squirrels can have problems with sipper tubes on water bottles, so provide a shallow bowl of clean water available in your squirrel's cage at all times.
Common Health Problems
Southern flying squirrels do not need any routine vaccinations and are not susceptible to any well-known diseases. It is common for them to develop calcium deficiency problems, but a calcium block in the cage can help prevent those issues.
Southern flying squirrels need a good amount of exploring and exercise, but since they're so small, most of this can be done within the confines of their own cage. However, they also thrive with time out of their cage, as long as they're closely supervised to prevent injury. In-cage toys and activities are also an easy way to keep your squirrel active.
Healthy southern flying squirrels will groom themselves regularly, and a lack of grooming can indicate other issues with your pet. That being said, you should never bathe your squirrel or submerge them in water—they can easily go into a state of shock or hypothermia. If you need to clean your squirrel for some reason, you can spot clean them with baby wipes or baby powder.
Training Your Southern Flying Squirrel
When it comes to training your souther flying squirrel, you shouldn't expect much. You won't be able to train your squirrel to do much beyond be comfortably handled and perhaps cozy into your clothing. Offer treats as incentive to get your squirrel comfortable with handling and being out of their cage.
Purchasing Your Southern Flying Squirrel
Before you buy a southern flying squirrel, make sure you have a local exotic veterinarian who can treat your pet if emergencies arise. Exotic veterinarians are often an excellent place to start for a referral for local, verifiable breeders. If these squirrels are local in your area, do not attempt to take one in from the wild. In most cases, it is illegal to do so.
Similar Pets to the Southern Flying Squirrel
If you are interested in pets similar to the southern flying squirrel, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Are southern flying squirrels hard to take care of?
Southern flying squirrels are not difficult to take care of and thus are a good option for novice pet owners looking for their first exotic pet. As long as you follow their basic care requirements and keep a close eye on them when out of the cage, you should be fine.
How long do southern flying squirrels live as pets?
With the proper care and attention, southern flying squirrels can live anywhere from 10 to 15 years in captivity. This is much longer than their average lifespan in the wild, which is closer to 5 years.
Do southern flying squirrels do better in their natural habitats than in a domesticated one?
It depends—with the proper care and attentions, southern flying squirrels will do well in captivity, and will not deal with a lot of the issues (predators, food shortages) that they may contend with in the while. That being said, they are wild animals, and even the best circumstances can not replicate life in the wild.