Southern flying squirrel is a considerably small, arboreal rodent. The animal exhibits large eyes as well as a flattened, wide and heavily furred tail. Southern flying squirrel is a gliding creature. When 'flying', it uses so-called "patagium" - a fold of skin, found between its hind and fore-legs. Before gliding, the rodent expands this fold of skin and rushes into the air.
The natural range of Southern flying squirrel is considerably large, stretching from southeastern Canada to the eastern United States, Mexico and Honduras. The preferred habitat of this species is woodland, dominated by maple, beech, hickory, oak, poplar and other seed-producing hardwoods. The rodent also favors mixed conifer/deciduous forests.
Southern flying squirrels are nocturnal animals. They occasionally display social behavior and can be found in pairs. In order to conserve heat during the winter months, these rodents form groups of 10 - 20 squirrels, which huddle together in a den, typically located in a hollow tree. These dens are their main dwellings, along with deserted woodpecker holes as well as human-made buildings and bird boxes. During the reproductive season, females of this species are known to be highly territorial, fiercely defending their territories. Southern flying squirrels do not hibernate. In spite of their name, these rodents don't fly, but glide. During the 'flight', they are able to avoid trees and other obstacles with ease. Moreover, they can glide from a height of up to 18 meters, pass as much as 50 meters a time and make 90 turns. The longest recorded glide of Southern flying squirrel was 80 meters. Although normally quiet, these animals associate through conspecifics through various vocalizations.
As omnivorous animals, Southern flying squirrels have a rather diverse diet. They feed upon nuts, acorns, seeds, berries, fruit, moths, junebugs, leaf buds, bark, eggs and cheeks of birds, young mice, insects, carrion as well as fungus.
As Southern flying squirrels are very rarely seen, little is known about their mating system. However, as males do not care for their young and typically leave before the litter is born, it may mean that this species exhibits either polygynous (one male mates with multiple females) or polygynandrous (promiscuous) (both males and females have multiple mates) mating systems. Southern flying squirrels have two breeding seasons per year: one occurs from January to April, and the other one lasts from June to August. Gestation period lasts for 40 days, yielding 1 - 6 young with an average of 2 - 3 per litter. Weaning occurs quite late - at 65 days old. Young gain independence at the age of 120 days. The age of sexual maturity is typically one year old, although some individuals are ready to produce offspring at 9 months old.
The population of this species as a whole doesn't face any serious threats. However, populations in certain areas suffer from habitat loss, combined with loss of cavity-bearing and mast-producing trees that are an important part of their habitat. Northern flying squirrels in Arkansas (U.S.A.) have been threatened by a seed-tree harvest regime without retained overstorey hardwoods, which have disturbed the local population of these animals, sharply decreasing the amount of available food recourses.
According to IUCN, the Southern flying squirrel is common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers remain stable.
The main role of Southern flying squirrels in the local ecosystem is seed dispersal. These rodents act as key seed dispersers of not only hardwood trees, but also fruiting bodies of subterranean fungi, which they feed upon. They disperse fungi spores through their feces. The fungi mycelia are thought to be highly beneficial for tree growth and maintenance due to association with tree roots.