Elusive ‘Humboldt Flying Squirrel’ Seen on Trail Cam in Northern California

Humboldt Flying Squirrel. Photo by Nick Kerhoulas.

For over 200 years, scientists believed there were only 2 types of flying squirrels in North America. That is until 2017, when a new distinct species was discovered in Northern California.

Recently, the elusive Glaucomys oregonensis, otherwise know as the “Humboldt flying squirrel,” was seen on a trail cam in Humboldt. It provides a rare and brief glimpse of the brand-new species.

A video was posted to the Instagram of Backcountry Press, a NorCal publisher of hiking and field guides, which shows the squirrel moving through Humboldt County:

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Oh, hello Humboldt’s flying squirrel! Thanks for stopping by. We’ve been hoping to meet you. . Have you met Glaucomys oregonensis? . This week the Backcountry Press neighborhood trail cam captured a Humboldt’s flying squirrel. The species is unusual on the ground — note clumsy walk, dime sized eye shine, patagium, and flattened tail. . Until recently, mammalogists classified two species of flying squirrels in North America. But, in 2017, a third was added with the formal description of the Humboldt’s flying squirrel (Glaucomys oregonensis). Though slightly smaller and darker, this cryptic species was once considered to be part of the northern flying squirrel (G. sabrinus) group but genetic studies and an in depth look at the penis bone changed that. . (Yes, you read that correctly) . Northern flying squirrels inhabit the boreal coniferous forests of the northeastern U.S., Canada, and Alaska as well as relictual habitat in the higher elevations of the Appalachian and Rocky mountains. The Humboldt’s flying squirrel is a specialist of the Pacific Slope’s coastal forests from southern California’s sky islands, north through the Sierra Nevada, Klamath Mountains, Coast Ranges, and Cascades in conifer and mixed-conifer forests. . We’re excited to feature this species in our upcoming book “The Klamath Mountains: A Natural History” due out in 2021. . As part of our school-at-home efforts here at world headquarters, we have been creating a neighborhood field guide with our 3rd grader. Part of this has been weekly data collection through the use of a game camera. This is one of the most exciting animals we have ever captured! . Head over to @greenwood.schoolhouse for a closer look at our DIY pandemic-style school experience, and tap LINK IN PROFILE to learn more about Humboldt’s flying squirrel. . Thank you @njkerhoulas for sharing your expertise and this Humboldt’s flying squirrel photo with us! . #flyingsquirrel #naturenotes #naturejournal #biodiversity #redwoodforest #humboldtcounty #ourpnw #cascadiaexplored #pnwonderland #pnw #mammalogy #pacificnorthwest #humboldt #northerncalifornia . . . https://backcountrypress.com/2020/10/humboldts-flying-squirrel

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How could a distinct species exist along the Pacific coast and escape the notice of scientists who first observed the northern flying squirrel in 1801?

“They look similar, but Humboldt’s flying squirrels are generally smaller and darker. With new genetic information we know that there’s no gene flow between the two,” says Nick Kerhoulas, HSU Biology instructor and a member of the research team.

Humboldt’s flying squirrel is what scientists refer to as a “cryptic” species, one that was not earlier recognized as being distinct based on its physical appearance. “If it had been something as obvious as a bushier tail, or distinct markings, scientists would have identified that already,” says Kerhoulas.

The new species was named the “Humboldt’s flying squirrel” in honor of German explores and geographer Alexander Von Humboldt, and in a nod to the Northern California county that bears his name.

New World flying squirrels, which now include Humboldt’s flying squirrel, are small, nocturnally active, gliding squirrels that inhabit woodland areas. The nocturnal habits of these animals mean humans rarely see them.

The creatures don’t actually fly like bats or birds. Rather they glide from tree to tree by extending furred membranes of skin that stretch from forearm wrist to ankle on the hind leg. Their feather-like tail provides extra lift and also aids in steering.

They are capable of gliding for up to 100 meters and can make sharp, mid-air turns by using their tail as a rudder and moving their limbs to manipulate the shape and tautness of their gliding membranes.

These aerial feats are even more remarkable given that flying squirrels often have to navigate through dense forest in the darkness of night. Their large eyes give them excellent vision, but the mechanisms of their navigation and judgment of distances while gliding remain largely a mystery.

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