Utah is home to a wide variety of animals but there are some that you might be surprised life in the state. Kim Hersey, from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources joined Good Morning Utah to talk about three of them.
While Utahns frequently see red squirrels in their neighborhoods and in forests, you may be surprised to learn that the northern flying squirrels are also native to Utah. And while population numbers aren’t available, flying squirrels are actually quite common – but they are very difficult to see.
“They are nocturnal and generally hang out in the treetops,” Kim Hersey, DWR mammal conservation coordinator, said. “Flying squirrels are found in coniferous forests in the mountains throughout the state. Count yourself lucky if you catch a glance.”
The name is slightly deceptive, however. Flying squirrels don’t actually fly: They glide. (Bats are the only true flying mammals.) Flying squirrels glide through the air, thanks to a membrane between their front and back limbs, similar to a wingsuit. An average glide for a flying squirrel is around 65 feet, but they have been recorded traveling up to 325 feet in a single glide.
Along with having a unique traveling method, flying squirrels are also unique because recent research has discovered that they glow fluorescent under a black light!
Flying squirrels primarily eat nuts, acorns, fungi and various other plants. In the wild, they typically live to about 4 years old.
Many people are familiar with the Pokeman character, Pikachu, but what you may not know is that it is based on a real animal called a pika, which is native to Utah. American pikas are small grayish-brown mammals that look like a cross between a rabbit and a mouse.
They live in high-elevation talus rocky areas, and are commonly seen in the Wasatch, Uinta, Tushar, and La Sal Mountains, as well as Fishlake National Forest and the lava fields near Cedar Breaks.
“Pikas can most easily be spotted gathering vegetation around the edges of talus slopes,” Hersey said. “Listen for their ‘eep’ alarm call and look for them on nearby rocks. You can also locate their ‘haystacks’ of stored vegetation piled in the rocks. A unique thing about pikas is that, unlike many mountain-dwelling small mammals, they do not hibernate. They remain active under the snow by feeding on stored vegetation.”
Pikas eat a wide variety of grasses and flowers and typically live three to four years, but have been known to live up to seven years. DWR has been monitoring pikas since 2008, and their populations have been stable.
While they are often a favorite at the zoo, northern river otters are actually native to Utah and can be spotted in the wild. However, they have never been abundant and populations were greatly reduced due to over-trapping and pollution. But beginning in 1989, river otters were reintroduced into several rivers in Utah, including the Green, Strawberry, Duchesne, Escalante and Provo rivers. Because river otters are fairly secretive animals that live in low population densities in the wild, it is hard to know exactly how many are currently in Utah.
Utahns are most likely to see river otters along the Green River and in Flaming Gorge Reservoir. They can also occasionally be spotted along the Colorado, Provo, Strawberry, Duchesne and Escalante rivers and their tributaries.
“Despite their name, river otters have also adapted to other aquatic habitats and can sometimes be found in coastal areas and lakes,” Hersey said.
River otters eat fish, frogs, a variety of crustaceans, and small birds and mammals. They typically live to no more than 8 or 9 years old.