Scientists have discovered a new species of flying squirrel in North America that had been hiding in plain sight for hundreds of years.
Humboldt’s flying squirrel or Glaucomys oregonensis, the new flying squirrel species inhabits the Pacific Coast region of North America. Until now, these coastal populations were simply thought to be the already-known northern flying squirrel, researchers said.
“For 200 years we thought we had only had one species of flying squirrel in the Northwest – until we looked at the nuclear genome, in addition to mitochondrial DNA, for the first time,” said Jim Kenagy, professor at the University of Washington in the US.
“It was a surprising discovery,” said Kenagy, co-author of the study published in the Journal of Mammalogy. The Humboldt’s flying squirrel is known as a “cryptic” species – a species that was previously thought to be another, known species because the two look similar. This new discovery of the Humboldt’s flying squirrel is the 45th known species of flying squirrel in the world, researchers said.
What are now three species of flying squirrels in North and Central America are all small, nocturnally-active, gliding squirrels that live in woodland habitats, they said.
These creatures do not actually fly like bats or birds. Instead, they glide from tree to tree by extending furred membranes of skin that stretch from the wrist of the forearm to the ankle on the hind leg.
Their feather-like tail provides extra lift and also aids in steering. The gliding ability of flying squirrels is remarkable; they are capable of gliding for up to 100 meters and can make sharp, midair turns by using their tail as a rudder and moving their limbs to manipulate the shape and tautness of their gliding membranes.