As I glance out the windows of my home office I’m struck by the calm of a late fall afternoon; the cloudless blue sky with just a whisper of wind through the trees. I don’t see any aircraft heading to or from the local military bases, nor the white vapor trails they often leave behind. No flocks of birds heading in perfect formation south for the winter. No falling leaves spinning to the ground. Heck, I don’t even see a flying squirrel!
Maybe you caught the story earlier this week. Seven people locked up in a Florida prison are charged with spearheading a “flying squirrel ring”. They trapped thousands of the little guys in the wild, laundered them through a dealer (what sort of person deals in flying squirrels?), who distributed them to several buyers. The buyers then drove to airports around the U.S., where the winged creatures were loaded onto airplanes headed to far eastern countries. Who knew: there’s a market for flying squirrels as exotic pets? Asians pay top dollar for them.
Is it just me or is there something a little redundant about shipping a flying squirrel on an airplane?
Also, what kind of a weirdo goes to the trouble to capture, launder, distribute, sell, drive, and transport thousands of flying squirrels halfway around the world? If you’re going to do something illegal why not deal drugs? Does a flying squirrel sell for that much?
Here’s another thing I can’t figure. What do you call a litter of flying squirrels… a “squadron”?
You must admit, flying squirrels probably make the top-ten list of God’s coolest creatures. The Northern species is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. They have big doe eyes to help them see in the dark (picture a Disney character). They forage for fruit, seeds, tree sap, and the occasional bird egg. They’ve been buzzing the planet for millions of years now – almost prehistoric.
But let’s talk about those “wings”. Flying squirrels have what’s called a patagium: a furry, parachute-like membrane stretching from tiny wrist to tiny ankle. When the membrane’s stretched taut they can glide from tree to tree, using their tail for stability. They can even steer their body like an airplane, using limbs and tail. How far can a flying squirrel fly, you ask? How about 300 feet? Yep, put one of these babies on top of an American football goalpost and he can soar all the way through the other end zone. “Touchdown”!
Okay BUT… flying squirrels lost some of their coolness when I discovered this picture. OMG, that’s just wicked scary. Can you imagine camping under the stars relaxed in your sleeping bag and you wake up to the rapid descent of that? I’d NEVER be the same. And here’s another Halloween-ish detail: flying squirrels glow. Their underbody fluoresces pink under UV light. Why? No idea, but that just makes them creepier.
Maybe I don’t want a flying furball for a pet after all.
I suppose I’d take flying squirrels over some of the other flying organisms out there. You know about flying fish. You may even know about flying frogs. But did you know about the flying squid in our oceans? Seriously, they can jettison out of the water by expelling water from their “funnel” and travel up to 160 feet. They can even keep that water blast going in the air for extra distance. And there you have it: the world’s only jet-propelled aerial locomotion animal.
Now let’s get to the stuff of real nightmares. How about flying snakes? Five species in Southeast Asia and India can glide like the squirrels. They contort their long bodies to be concave (like an upside-down taco shell), which allows them to buoy on a cushion of air. Not to be outdone by the squirrels, flying snakes can also cover the length of a football field. They even make mid-air 90-degree turns. I didn’t have plans to visit Southeast Asia or India anytime soon but now I’m never going. No way.
Finally, we have the undisputed king of flying nightmares: balloon spiders. These ungodly insects spin a silky globe along with a sturdy dragline and go for a ride wherever the wind may take them. If I was talking about one flying spider I might deal with it but these guys travel in packs. Large packs. Can you imagine? An endless assault of mini paratroopers on a mini Normandy, only you are Normandy. “Incoming!”
You can fill your skies with whatever you want but I’ll pass on flying squids, snakes, and spiders. I’ll even pass on the Northern squirrel (they only live 5-6 years and have no interest in bonding with humans) Oh, and for those of you with flying monkeys on the brain, those would’ve been on the cool list if I hadn’t watched Dorothy and her friends at such a young and impressionable age. Still gets me.
Nope, I choose late fall cloudless blue skies with just a whisper of wind. No squirrels anywhere in sight.