Flying Squirrels Discovered Living in Dying Nebraska Oak Tree As Crew Cuts it Down

A landscaping crew at the University of Nebraska found flying squirrels nesting in a dying oak tree they were cutting down on campus at the School of Natural Resource.

The crew from the university landscape services said they were cutting down the dying tree when they found not one, but four bizarre-looking squirrels and recorded what they saw, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Shortly after, the squirrels jumped off their tree and glided over to another oak tree and slipped out of view.

"We're like, 'What the heck is that?'" said Brian Dieterman, a member of the crew. "We're used to seeing squirrels in trees, but this didn't look like a squirrel."

The video made its way to conservation biology professor Larkin Powell, and he said he was surprised about the discovery partly because of the fact they're nocturnal.

"It's among the species that's harder to document because they're not out when people are around," he said. "And they're little dudes."

Nebraska does have a population of flying squirrels, but they're typically located about 90 miles away in the southeast part of the state.

"As a biologist, I've seen crazy things that animals can do. But it's very unlikely they made it here on their own," said Shaun Dunn, a natural heritage zoologist for the state of Nebraska.

While it's a rare sight to see a flying squirrel in Lincoln, it's not the first time. Since 2018, Dunn said he has documented 15 sightings of flying squirrels.

Don Althoff has been studying the species for 30 years in Ohio. His expertise came to play when he was asked to share his blueprints of a nesting box for the Nebraska squirrels. The Journal Star reported Althoff was happy to help his alma mater.

Upon receiving the blueprints, School of Natural Resources director John Carroll got busy in his basement making the nesting box. He says he sees a future interest by the Wildlife Club and Powell says he intends on setting up game cameras to study them.

"You just have to know if they were in that tree, and there were four of them," Powell said, "odds are they're in a lot of other places you don't see them."

Nesting Box For Flying Squirrels
John Benson, UNL assistant professor of vertebrate ecology, installs a nesting box for flying squirrels on December 22, 2021, on UNL's East Campus in Lincoln, Nebraska. Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Star/AP Photo

It turns out the flying squirrels had been living undetected—until now—in the treetops just above the animal experts at the university's School of Natural Resources in Lincoln. The crew made the discovery earlier this month, the newspaper reported.

The National Wildlife Federation says on its website that flying squirrels don't really power themselves into flight like a bird or a bat, but rather glide. The federation says the southern flying squirrel is found throughout the eastern United States, while the northern flying squirrel is found primarily in the Northeast, along the West Coast, and into Idaho and Montana.

Althoff, who earned his master's degree at the university in 1978 and is now a semi-retired wildlife conservation professor at Ohio's University of Rio Grande, has been studying southern flying squirrels for nearly 30 years. He's watched them glide 40, 50, even 75 yards.

Though graceful in the air, the animals are awkward on the ground. Because their sail-like flaps run from wrist to ankle he said they move more like a hobbled horse.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pink Squirrel, Flying Squirrel, New World Flying Squirrel, Biology, North America
Four flying squirrels were found on the campus of University of Nebraska. Above, a flying squirrel. Getty Images

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