an animal that naturally preys on others
an animal that is hunted and killed by another for food
Some animals are carnivores - they must eat meat to survive. These
animals can be predators or scavengers. Flying squirrels are prey animals, and
they have many predators. Some common predators that flying squirrels
encounter during their night forays, depending upon geographic area,
- Owls (Strix sp., Bubo sp., Asio spp., Otus spp.)
- Marten (Martes americana)
- Fisher (Martes pennanti)
- Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
- Coyote (Canis latrans)
- House Cat (Felis catus)
- Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
- Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
- Weasel (Mustela sp.)
- Arboreal snakes (Elaphe spp.)
- Rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp., Sistrurus spp.)
A flying squirrel is ever-alert to potential predators. If they are not, they are dead. It is as simple as that!
Many flying squirrel predators locate their prey by a combination of
sound and movement (there are exceptions, of course - snakes locate
their prey via a combination of smell, warmth, and vibration).
A flying squirrels' pelage is designed to allow it to blend in with its
surroundings, and when a flying squirrel detects the presence of a
predator, its first instinct is to remain stock-still and not make a
sound. This behaviour will prevent a predator, hopefully, from
"zeroing-in" on the location of the flyer in question, lose interest,
and leave the area for "greener pastures". This period of immobility
also serves to allow the flying squirrel some time to decide upon its
method and/or route of escape, should the predator attack. Flying
squirrels, with the exception of juveniles, know their home
range like the back of their paws! Every single refuge is known to
them, and all the best routes to get to each refuge as well. The most
dangerous period in a flying squirrel's life is when it is a juvenile,
or a "teenager". Inexperience in dealing with predators of various
species, combined with an un-honed locomotion skill-set, minimal
knowledge of its environs, and a propensity for risk-taking make young
flyers an easy target. We see high mortality rates in juvenile flying
squirrels, far higher than that found any other age group.
A flying squirrels' visual acuity is likely limited to seeing only
blurred movement at at great distances. Because it has eyes on the
sides of its head, it cannot judge with impunity how far away a
predator may be until it is too late. So you can see, life is a
precious commodity for many prey animals. If a predator is not fooled
by a flying squirrel remaining perfectly still, it will attack. This is
a time when all a flying squirrels arboreal abilities come into play.
Through a combination of running, jumping and gliding, the squirrel
will attempt to get to a refugia before being attacked.
When a flying squirrel is being being watched or followed by an owl
while gliding, it will instinctlivey run to the other side of it's
landing spot in order to avoid being taken. In fact, this instinctual
behaviour is so well-ingrained, you can watch wild flyers perform this
manoeuver as a precaution, even when no owls are in the vicinity.
Photo courtesy Ethan Meleg
The great horned owl is a flying squirrel's biggest nightmare!
Photo courtesy Ethan Meleg
(such as this fox snake), may eat ALL the occupants of a natal nesting
cavity, as its body will often block the only route of escape.
owls visit our feeding station once in a while - only to watch the
action, nothing else. Northern flying squirrels are, as a rule, too
large to be on a screech owl's dinner plate, but
southern flying squirrels and juvenile northern flying squirrels had
better keep an eye out!
This fisher met
an untimely death. Fishers are dog-like creatures that are as adept at
hunting for food in the trees as they are on the ground.
rattlesnakes are lazy snakes - they "hunt" at night by sitting very
still and waiting for a small mammal to cross their path. Flying
squirrels spend the vast majority of foraging time in the trees, but do
come down to the ground to bury food and to dig for underground fungi,
so it is at these times a massasauga rattlesnake can grab a nice
Here are the regurgitated remains of a northern flying squirrel. Fur, bones and claws are all that remain after an owl's meal.
This is a
regurgitated pellet from a great horned owl. Basically, it
contains whatever the owl's digestive system could not use - fur,
feathers, nails and bones. This particular pellet is the largest
complete specimen the author has ever seen - it is the size of a Grade
The common house
cat doesn't look very scary, but they are one of the most devastating
predators of flying squirrels in urban, suburban, and rural areas
across North America. Please keep kitty indoors!
These young raccoons, sound asleep in their natal nest, will one day savour the taste of flying squirrel steak!
Domestic house cats, feral or cared-for, are not natural predators within any North American forest ecosystem. Period.
These tails are all that's left of two southern flying squirrels,
thanks to uncaring humans who let their domestic house cats roam free
in the forest at night.
Domestic house cats are killing machines. Untold milliions of small
mammals and songbirds are killed in North America every year by these
Please keep kitty indoors.
have "breakaway" tails, as do many other species of squirrel. This is a
real advantage, as a predator may only end up with a mouthful of tail,
while the squirrel itself scampers away to a safe haven, its ego the