Field of Science

Nocturnal visitor redux

So we have been discovered by a "family" of flying squirrels, although I prefer the name Night Gliders.There have been up to three flying squirrels visiting the crook of the aforementioned silver maple. One of the coolest thing is to see one come gliding in from a nearby tree.  I've caught them gliding in twice and both times they appeared  upright (like a standing up person) not flat like a hang glider. Of course it may be useful, at least structurally, to be upright just before you smash into a tree (see figure 1) although its also possible I saw them just before landing.
Figure 1. How not to bonk your head as a flying squirrel.

Figure 2. Nightcrawler and flying squirrel
from here and here respectively.
Another thing I learned is that flying squirrels, at least Northern American flying squirrels, can teleport (Figure 2). It's possible, but unlikely, that they are simply small and fast and its dark out, but I think they can probably teleport up and down and all around the tree. Regardless, these rodents are about the cutest damned furry mammals I've seen in a while. For comparison sake, I have vast experience with your common gray squirrel, which frequents our yard daily for peanuts, seeds, and other sundries. The red squirrel, which is much more shy in the twin cities suburbs, but much less so in the Itasca woods (where gray squirrels are essentially non-existent). We also have several white and black (gray variants) squirrel visitors (named whitey and blackey respectively). Its a great backyard experiment in evolution. The white squirrels are true albinoes, having pink eyes to go with their white fur. The expectation is that the white squirrels survive predation better in the Minnesota winter than either gray or black squirrel. If true, then there should be more white squirrels, as well as some selective pressure for albinoism in gray squirrel populations that live environments with extensive annual snowfall. In other words, there should be fewer white squirrels in Mississippi.

Figure 3. Nom nom nom squirrel.
Cool gray squirrel factoid, when they eat peanuts, they hold the nut in their paws like you might expect (Figure 3). They then rip a few pieces of the peanut shell off, pull out a peanut with their teeth, wedge it between their thumbs, and leisurely eat the nut. Bust off some more shell and repeat for the next nut. The gray squirrels (and variants) are getting to the point of semi-domestication (as are the blue jays that come when you call). The reds not so much. However, the flying squirrels while shy, appear to be getting used to me. I can go outside and provide more sunflower seeds without them bolting to Wisconsin. In fact, they seem to use the 'freeze' defense mechanisms, which makes sense if you are using darkness as a way to avoid predators.

Anyway, the other night I provided some feed for some flying squirrels, which they enjoyed immensely.

However I believe I may have used some genetically modified sunflower seeds,  because when I looked back about 45 minutes later my flying squirrel looked like this:

It was much slower and seemed to have lost its apparation ability. In fact when I went outside to provide some more seeds, it looked at me....

Clearly this is a mutant flying squirrel. It was in the same place only a little bit later the same evening. It was eating the same food, but it lost many flying squirrel properties. Besides its basic lethargy, it also did not bolt when I went outside. As I approached the tree with a fresh supply of seeds and peanuts, it slowly turned, opened its maw revealing a row of dagger-like death and made some demonic hissing noise. Obviously, the rapid growth undergone by the flying squirrel affected its vocalization ability. It also appears to have changed its ability to sexually reproduce with a placenta and immediately evolved a pouch-like sac for fetal development.

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