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Squirrel Appreciation Day

Sciurus volans. The flying squirrel. / Guajacana [Persimmon tree], Mark Catesby. Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London, 1731-1743 [i.e, 1729-1747]). Vol.2, pl.76.

Sciurus volans.  The flying squirrel.  /  Guajacana [Persimmon tree], Mark Catesby.  Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London, 1731-1743 [i.e, 1729-1747]).  Vol.2, pl.76.

Mark Catesby spent a total of twelve years in the 1710s and1720s exploring the south-eastern seaboard of North America and produced the first fully illustrated book on the plants and animals he found there. He usually depicted the animals in association with an appropriate tree or plant, and thus was one of the first to emphasize ecological relationships. Here he shows a North American flying squirrel in a persimmon (“pishimon”) tree, and says:

These Squirrels have not membranous Wings like those of a Bat, whereby they can fly to any great Distance, but have only Membranes covered with their Furr, which grow along their Sides and are attached to their Legs, by which they can expand them, and so help themselves in leaping from one Tree to another… . [They] are gregarious, travelling in Companies of  ten, or twelve together. When I first saw them, I took them for dead Leaves, blown one Way by the Wind, but was not long so deceived, when I perceived many of them to follow one another in one Direction: They will fly fourscore Yards from one Tree to another. They cannot rise in their Flight, nor keep in a horizontal Line, but descend gradually… . Their Food is that of other Squirrels, viz. Nuts, Acorns, Pine Seeds, Pishimon Berries, &c.

Carl Linnaeus, who systematized the naming of plant and animal species in the 1750s, renamed the flying squirrel Glaucomys volans and cited Catesby’s illustration in naming the tree species Diospyros virginiana in his Species plantarum (Stockholm, 1753).

—Leslie Overstreet


  1. Great info! Found out about this on Twitter and had no idea. Thanks Smithsonian!
    – @Banff_Squirrel

  2. ALM

    Flying squirrels are not so much appreciated in my sister’s household. She had a nest of flying squirrels living in her attic and managed to get them out, only to find them back again 2 days later! I think their ecological relationship is to the readily available supply of cat food found about the house…and the heat radiating up to the attic. They are quite cute to look at!

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