How Did the Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel Recover?
The recovery of the Virginia northern flying squirrel is a success story of hard work and persistence. In the early 1980s, the species was listed as endangered. However, due to restoration efforts, it was able to rebound and has joined the elite group of species that have been rescued from the brink of extinction. Listed as an endangered species in 1985, it has joined the group of animals that have recovered from this status.
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Habitat disruption may be contributing to the decline of the virginia northern flying squirrel
The declining population of the Virginia northern flying squirrel is a complex problem. It is a native of cold boreal regions, but today is restricted to isolated populations in high elevations separated by vast areas of habitat that is inhospitable to the species. Habitat fragmentation has also led to the invasion of the southern flying squirrel in the former northern flying squirrel habitat. The southern flying squirrel prefers deciduous forest to those with higher elevations, so the eastern population has become dominant in this state.
In 2001, the PGC Board of Commissioners approved three federal State Wildlife Grants Program cooperative projects. Wilkes University monitored 500 nest boxes and collected data on breeding, reproduction, and habitat use. They fitted 33 northern flying squirrels with radio transmitters to monitor the species’ movements. Their research revealed that their habitat overlapped with that of the southern flying squirrel and that competing species often shared the same nest boxes.
Breeding in the first summer after their birth
The Virginia northern flying squirrel is one of the two subspecies of the northern flying squirrel. It lives in high elevations of the Allegheny Mountains. It was listed as vulnerable in 1985. This species is also found in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Breeding is likely to begin in the first summer after birth. Breeding in the first summer after birth is a crucial time to protect this unique species.
In spring and early summer, the female of the northern flying squirrel gives birth to two or four young. One litter of young can be up to six individuals, but typically only four or five. The young remain with their mother until they reach about two months of age. They can begin jumping short distances and eventually leave the nest at 40 days old. Breeding in the first summer after birth is also possible if the female is in good nutritional condition.
Infestation by parasite
The normal lifespan of the Virginia northern flying squirrel is not yet known. Studies conducted in the past have indicated that individual flying squirrels may live up to four years, but the normal lifespan in the wild is unknown. To determine the normal lifespan of a particular species, its natural habitat is vital. The adelgid parasite has been found in Balsam Fir, which is susceptible to infestation. The parasite may eradicate all mature Fraser firs in the next few decades. Infestation of the northern flying squirrel population may cause the decline of the species.
Infestation of the Virginia northern flying squirrel by Strongyloides robustus may influence the competition among two species. While the parasite may not affect both species, it may affect the two species. The parasite is transmitted through skin contact with infected feces or through soil. Affected flying squirrel may not be able to fly for a prolonged period. However, it may survive in areas of lower body condition.
Nesting in coniferous forests
One of the most intriguing stories about how the Virginia northern flying squirrel has recovered from its history of nesting in coniferous forests is the story of the species’ amazing versatility in choosing its nest tree. While nest trees were not necessarily categorized according to size, condition, or other factors, the diversity of tree species is crucial. These characteristics may even be more important than any particular attribute of a stand. Unfortunately, these attributes are usually reduced in managed forests.
The study of a population of flying squirrels found that this species preferred stands of coniferous forests with deep organic horizons. This may be because flying squirrels prefer this kind of forest for nesting, rather than coniferous ones. This may have something to do with the species’ preference for red spruce. Despite the differences, this species is still highly dependent on red spruce for nesting.
The northern flying squirrel is a small, nocturnal creature with thick, dense fur. It is grayish-brown above and slate gray underneath. Its tail is flat on the back, and its membranes between the forelegs and hindlegs act as “wings” while gliding. The squirrels live in forests in Highland, Grant, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, and Webster counties in West Virginia.
The restoration of the red spruce habitat in the Monongahela River area is driving the local economy. The natural regeneration of this area’s spruce forest ecosystem has many benefits, from cleaner air to more appealing recreational activities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with other conservation organizations to help the flying squirrel regain its former population numbers. Conservation groups including the Monongahela Countrywide Forest and The Nature Conservancy are assisting the restoration of habitat in the state to improve the northern flying squirrel population.
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.