Flying Squirrels: An Elusive and Iconic Species

Right now, we don’t know much about the San Bernardino Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys oregonensis californicus). Yes, we know it is totally adorable, but it’s also elusive and strictly nocturnal with a habitat range currently thought to be restricted to the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles. How many are there? What are its habits and behaviors? We don’t really know.

A Museum project using the power of citizen science aims to change that. In collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, the San Diego Natural History Museum is enlisting residents of communities in the San Bernardino Mountains to collect data about flying squirrels. Citizens are briefed and trained on how to deploy and manage motion-activated cameras in their backyards to capture images and video footage of the squirrels when they pay them a visit.

All the squirrel sightings are tracked through iNaturalist.org, a platform where citizen scientists’ nature observations become part of a larger database of scientific understanding. After the project wraps up in the San Bernardino Mountains, it will move into another phase that will include the nearby San Jacinto Mountains where they were last documented in the early 1900s and in the San Gabriel Mountains to see if the squirrel’s distribution and range might be more expansive than we thought.

Citizen science has an important history in mammal research at The Nat. One of the cornerstones of our collection is the many bird and mammal specimens amassed by Laurence Huey, a dedicated naturalist with no formal scientific training and an eighth-grade education. While supporting himself with hard-labor jobs as a young man, Huey spent countless hours collecting specimens across Southern California and Baja California, ultimately building one of the most significant collections representing the region’s wildlife. At age 31, Huey was hired as the Museum’s curator of birds and mammals.

You can see specimens Huey collected, and learn about other San Diego citizen scientists, in the exhibition Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science, which is included with Museum admission and located on Level 3.

Did you know we named our café after this project? Visit The Flying Squirrel Café next time you’re at the Museum to enjoy brewed-to-order espresso drinks, fresh juices, wine, craft beer, and California casual fare, including salads, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, pastries, and more.


Posted By Senior Exhibit Developer Erica Kelly.

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