As it nears its 100th year, Humboldt State has more than 50,000 graduates. They’ve spread out and settled across the country and around the world, making major contributions to their communities and in their professions—areas like education, forestry, natural resources, alternative energy, wildlife, art and more.
As an alum (’06, German with a minor in Journalism), I know a bit about the strong connection graduates feel with HSU. Like you, I frequently meet other alumni—both when I travel or locally at the grocery store. In my role as a writer and now editor of Humboldt magazine, I come across many alumni success stories. But I was curious to know more about our far-reaching community.
WITH MUCH LESS THAN a fully developed plan, I set out. My first stop: The HSU Library’s Humboldt room, where librarian Joan Berman and archivist Edie Butler helped me delve into the earliest records of Humboldt State alumni.
From a host of materials—commencement programs to yearbooks—I got to know the alumni who made up Humboldt’s earliest graduating classes. In 1915, the small Humboldt State Normal School graduated just 15 students. The campus would grow to 654 by 1950 (see fig. 1) and wouldn’t expand to its current size of about 7,500 students until the 1970s (A side note: In 1962 the California State University trustees predicted campus enrollment would reach 12,000 by 1990. Imagine trying to find a parking space). At the beginning of Humboldt State’s existence, even the split between genders was surprising. In the 1930s, when the school started keeping records of this sort, the campus was nearly three-quarters women (see fig. 2). In the 1950s and 60s, as the campus’ emphasis focused on natural resources, men made up the majority of students. By the millennium, however, women made up a slim majority of students—a figure that follows national trends.
|Fall Enrollment at the Start of Decades|
|From Mostly Women, To Mostly Men, to Mostly Even|
Humboldt State Normal School’s first graduating class in 1914 was made up of 15 women. Football games in the 1920s were only possible when every available man on campus was forced onto the field. By the 1930s almost three-quarters of the graduates were women. Then, from the 1950s to early 1970s, the campus population grew from 750 to more than 6,000 students, and men made up nearly two-thirds of the student body. By the 2000s, following national trends, women were once again the majority.
After opening in April 1914, it wasn’t long before the campus would begin to honor its alumni. In fall 1924 the Alumni Association formed to sponsor the first homecoming game, which honored the class of 1917 and included a 9-0 victory over Arcata High School (Yes, high school).
Digging through the archives, it became clear the alumni of the 1920s and ’30s were especially committed to Humboldt State. They supported the growing school in many ways, including lobbying for support at the state level, offering housing for current students and even providing an early student loan program. In 1933 the Alumni Association published the Humboldt Alumnus, a precursor to this magazine.
In a stark reminder of the enrollment drop during the First World War, which threatened to close the school, World War II caused a major dip in the number of graduates. The 1944 graduating class from Humboldt State Teachers College, as it was then known, was only 27 students. By fall of that year, enrollment would drop to 176.
Following the war, enrollment soon rebounded and by the 1960s, Humboldt State alumni numbered in the thousands and the campus established the Who’s Who Award to honor outstanding alumni. The first award went to George E. Hogan from the class of 1933, and since then, more than 80 alumni have received this honor. Today, the tradition is continued with the Distinguished Alumni Awards. Humboldt Alumni seeks nominations from all members of campus, including alumni. In fact, if you know a deserving Humboldt State alum, drop by alumni.humboldt.edu and share their story.
In the 1970s, the Alumni Association continued its work of keeping former students connected to their alma mater. In 1975, the Humboldt Alumnus became the Humboldt Stater. During that time, however, campus enrollment began a decline, notably in the social sciences and humanities. After reaching 7,500 students in 1974, enrollment dropped to 6,735 by 1978. The following year, campus sought to increase campus morale and the Great Humboldt Spirit Celebration looked to the community to enhance homecoming. That year, the alumni king and queen were chosen from the class of 1917.
It wasn’t long before I had a real sense of who Humboldt State alumni were, and their contributions to campus. For one thing, alumni have never stopped giving back. In 2010, alone, an impressive 4,000 alumni made financial gifts to the university. Many of those gifts went to the Humboldt Loyalty Fund, which supports things like specialized equipment for labs, art supplies and digital art collections, talks by visiting scholars, student presentations at academic conferences, and much more. But I still wanted to know more. It turns out, the folks at Humboldt Alumni did to.
In their offices, I came across a survey HSU Alumni conducted in 2009 that gauged alumni attitudes on everything from opinions about campus today to their experiences as students. The responses were incredibly positive. About three-quarters of alumni said attending HSU was a great decision, and the vast majority agreed their education prepared them well for life-long learning. A little more than half said they regularly promote HSU. Others praised the campus for its quality academics and the valuable relationships forged between students and faculty.
Alumni said they wanted more opportunities to stay connected with the university. They were clear they want social events for Humboldt State grads throughout the state of California—where more than 35,000 alumni live—and beyond (see our alumni map for more details on alumni living across the country).
|Number of Alumni Living Internationally as of 2011|
|North America (outside U.S.)||52|
|Alumni Living in the Humboldt Area|
In sitting down with the folks at the alumni offices, I came across a host of other information about Humboldt grads. Did you know more than 700 Humboldt alumni have participated in the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961? HSU currently ranks No. 20 among schools its size for sending students into the corps. Beyond Peace Corps experience, more than 200 alumni are living internationally (see fig. 3). Not surprisingly, and I’m among this group, more than 10,000 alumni are still living in the Humboldt Area (see fig. 4). This number corresponds well with another set of data I came across concerning Humboldt State alumni. In 2010, the campus’ Institute for Research and Planning conducted a survey of graduating seniors. The most interesting finding? Almost a quarter of that class came from the Los Angeles area but more than 30 percent of respondents said they intend to stay in Humboldt County and only 8 percent are planning on heading to Los Angeles. Say what you will about Humboldt County’s fog, clearly something has caught the hearts and minds of these students (see fig. 5 and 6).
|Where Students Come From (2010)|
|Los Angeles Area||26%|
|San Francisco Bay Area||13%|
|San Diego Area||6%|
|Where Grads Plan to Live (2010)|
|San Francisco Bay Area||12%|
|Los Angeles Area||8%|
|San Diego Area||3%|
|Out of State||15%|
|Out of Country||4%|
|What Grads Plan to Do (2010)|
|Hunt for Employment||48%|
|Graduate or Professional Study||31%|
|Start a Family||6%|
|Further Under-Graduate Study||2%|
Then the Humboldt Alumni staff turned me on to the Alumni Discovery Project. The idea behind the project is to have current students sit down with alumni throughout California and talk about the campus “back then” and how their lives have been shaped by their Humboldt State education.
The project started this summer break, with seven students matched up with alumni in their home region. And from all indications, it has been a great success. The students were inspired, and alumni shared interesting stories as well as their opinions about what makes Humboldt great. Many alumni later called into Humboldt Alumni to say how much they enjoyed meeting the students and how honored they were to be selected (see the Discovering HSU’s Alumni sidebar to the right).
Once the semester picked up, I sat down with the students from the Discovery Project and got a feel for the work they had done. “I wasn’t expecting to grow so much from this project,” said Vanessa Gonsalves, a Communication major, from San Jose.
“Talking to so many successful alumni really inspired me and excited me about my future,” said Jeff Bertotti, an Anthropology major from El Dorado Hills, Calif.
One thing Humboldt State prides itself on is the hands-on nature of its academic programs. According to Carsten Charlesworth, a Zoology major who worked with the project, folks in the “real world” know this too. “A lot of the alumni in management positions I spoke with say they like to hire HSU alumni because of their hands-on approach to problem-solving. Other people might be qualified, but HSU grads aren’t afraid to dig into a problem to find the solution.”
After talking with these students, I bumped into fellow HSU alum, Steve Smith (’77 Wildlife management, ’81 Biological Sciences), who is now Dean of our College of Natural Resources and Sciences. Smith tells me he’s “living the dream” in his current position. I ran Charleseworth’s notion of HSU grads taking their hands-on approach into the workforce and Smith echoed this comment. “The alumni I run into talk about the best parts of Humboldt State—the hands-on learning, working closely with their professors. They really speak highly about the formative education they received at Humboldt State,” he said.
As I wrapped up my research into the world of HSU alumni, I knew quite a bit about my fellow Humboldt graduates. It turned out I had plenty to keep our graphic designers busy, as you can see with all the charts and graphs.
And more than ever, I understand the value of the Class notes section of this magazine. Take a look—this issue has more notes than ever. And if you’d like to update your fellow alumni on what you’ve been up to please visit humboldt.edu/classnotes to share your news .
THE HUMBOLDT ALUMNI DISCOVERY Project matched a group of seven HSU students with alumni across California. In more than 350 interviews this summer, alumni shared stories of their campus memories, lives after college and what an HSU education means to them. All the students working on the project agreed that talking with HSU alumni opened their eyes to a world of possibilities after college and impacted them in ways they never expected.
“Seeing the graduates through the years really makes me proud to be an HSU student,” said Vanessa Gonsalves, one of the Discovery Project students.
“It was very small, only about 1,000 people when I graduated. Everyone was very friendly and you knew everyone on campus. You knew your professors very well.”
“I cherished the sense of community that running brought to my life. I still keep in touch with many of my track and cross country friends to this day.”
“Making very close connections with fellow students. We used to call each other at 1 a.m. for help on assignments.”
“I enjoyed the hands-on experience I received and that the university cared about the environment.”
“Some of my favorite memories are riding my bike across Arcata and going to the farmer’s market.”
In the face of climate change, white spruce trees at the highest elevations in southwest Alaska are responding to increased temperatures with positive growth, while lower elevation trees appear to be experiencing reduced growth and susceptibility to attacks by spruce beetles according to a new study recently published by Humboldt State University faculty and alumni.
Geography Professor Rosemary Sherriff—working with recent HSU graduates Kelly Muth, Madelinn Schriver, and Rebecca Batzel, and the National Park Service—recently published “Spruce growth responses to warming vary by ecoregion and ecosystem type near the forest-tundra boundary in south-west Alaska,” in the Journal of Biogeography.
The study tells the complicated story about the effects of climate change on trees in Alaska and helps scientists and land managers better understand how trees respond. “Recent changes in temperature and precipitation are altering high-altitude forests, although the specific effects depend on the biogeographical setting,” the researchers write.
Observers know the forests are changing, but where these transitions are occurring and how climate variability plays into these dynamics is relatively unclear. The study sheds light on how white spruce responds in maritime versus boreal ecoregions near the boundary of boreal forests of North America. The study also notes that precipitation is having a significant effect on tree growth in the years after 1985 compared to prior decades when tree growth appeared to be stable despite variances in rain and snowfall.
Amy Miller, manager of the monitoring program for the Southwest Alaska Network of National Parks, points out the importance of the research. “The study provides information to the parks about where spruce are showing increased growth in response to warming, and where growth has been declining in recent decades. In areas of decline, stands may become vulnerable to damage by insects or disease, which has direct effects on wildlife, subsistence activities, and visitor experience.”
Muth, Schriver, and Batzel helped Sherriff analyze data on the tree-ring record of more than 1,200 trees throughout Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks and Preserves in Southwest Alaska. The students also analyzed climate records from King Salmon and Port Alsworth, Alaska, to evaluate monthly temperature and precipitation effects on tree growth.
The Dendroecology Lab supports both undergraduate and graduate research in biogeography, landscape ecology, forest ecology, climate change and forest disturbance ecology, dendrochronology, and environmental applications of GIS and related spatial analyses.
According to Sherriff, working in the lab affords students the opportunity to gain valuable experience as researchers while also developing skills in teaching.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed with the research skill level our undergraduate students carry out at HSU” said Rosemary Sherriff, “These three students also went on to train other students in the lab, including graduate students, on techniques involving measuring and dating tree rings, running statistical software, and developing databases that will be used by future student researchers.”
For Muth, a co-author of the study, working in the lab gave her the chance to hone skills that added to her education. “Even though I did not take formal forestry or statistical analysis classes, I was one of the primary research assistants on various projects and publications while working in the lab. I had support from Dr. Sherriff when needed, and was encouraged to problem solve and troubleshoot before getting an automatic answer or fix from Dr. Sherriff.”
The study is available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jbi.12968/full.
Read the original version of this story online.
STEP INTO THE MAIN office of the Schatz Energy Research Center, and it’s easy to get swept up in the buzz of activity. Researchers at computer stations are busy analyzing data or poring over government regulations. Students run experiments at banks of hydrogen fuel cells. The center’s director, Peter Lehman, is finishing a proposal to analyze a method of producing cheap, clean and readily available biomass fuels (a process called torrefaction; more on that later.)
For 20 years, cutting edge research into renewable energy has been taking place behind the modest façade of the University Annex, a sprawling building that served as Arcata’s Trinity Hospital until 1968. Over the course of two decades, the lab has grown to include 12 full-time staff members, 12 graduate and undergraduate research assistants and operates with a yearly budget of about $1 million. Now, the Schatz Lab has moved into its own state-of-the-art building, just across from the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. The new building has more breathing room, bigger lab spaces, a central-campus location and serves as a showcase to the center’s commitment to sustainability—the facility is built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-equivalent standards. The new structure is HSU’s first donor-funded building, drawing on funds from the estate of Louis Schatz, the man who started it all with a gift in 1989. It represents a turning point in a 20-year existence that has steadily built on one success after another.
THE SCHATZ LAB CAUGHT the attention of the nation when it rolled out the country’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered car licensed to drive in the United States. The project grew out of a $3.9 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Working with the SunlineTransit agency in Thousand Palms, Calif., Schatz engineers outfitted the area with a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles and the accompanying fueling infrastructure.
The vehicle’s debut was a hit, and it wasn’t long before the Schatz Lab was being featured in Scientific American and Popular Science.
For years the center pushed further into researching fuel cells, going as far as to secure two patents for its work on the proton exchange membrane fuel cells and a registered trademark for the Stack-in-a-Box®—a portable fuel cell capable of pumping out 125 Watts of on-the-go power. The group steadily built a reputation for producing high quality fuel cells that were known for besting the competition in the lab tests and real world trials. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks, the University of Michigan, Kettering University and Auburn University in Alabama are all recipients of Schatz-built fuel cells. “We were able to give those schools exactly what they wanted for their graduate students to conduct their research,” says Greg Chapman, senior research engineer at the Schatz Lab.
In October 2008, the group was granted $395,000 from the Department of Energy to develop the Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education program, which focuses on providing hands-on hydrogen energy education to engineering students in the CSU and UC systems. An additional $15,000 was awarded in 2010 to build 30 bench-top electrolyzer/fuel cell experiment kits destined for campuses around California.
“The best thing about the program is that it puts students in touch with real life problems and modern technology,” says Lehman. “We focus on ‘issue oriented’ science. We take something from the modern world and relate it to what’s going on in class.”
In a way, for the Schatz Lab to move from developing fuel cells for graduate level research and into classrooms across the state (and even the country—the New York-based company Labaids is developing curriculum resources based on the Schatz fuel cell), is a natural extension of their early work as a university research center. “As far as seriously studying renewable energy goes, Schatz Lab was one of the first in the nation,” says Lehman.
Before bringing fuel cells to the state’s engineering students, the Schatz Lab was putting its hydrogen expertise to work. One major project, overseen by Chapman and developed from the ground up by a group of dedicated student researchers is California’s first rural hydrogen fueling station.
It was a team of Environmental Resources Engineering students, with guidance from the Schatz Lab, who had the first creative spark that led to the station. The Humboldt State team went on to win an international design contest sponsored by the National Hydrogen Association, which paved the way for the station’s opening in 2008.
Now, the station provides fuel for a pair of test vehicles—a modified Toyota Prius and a state-of-the-art fuel cell-powered Toyota Highlander—and is poised to receive a significant upgrade, says Schatz Energy Fellow and HSU graduate student Meg Harper. “We’re looking into upgrading the station’s capacity from 5,000 psi to 10,000 psi, which would allow us to use all the potential fuel capacity of the Toyota Highlander,” says Harper. “The upgrade will give the Highlander a range of over 400 miles, about the same as a regular gasoline powered passenger car.”
Ongoing work with the hydrogen fueling station is just part of Harper’s work with the center. She has also worked with the Schatz Lab to explore energy issues in the developing world, where improving economies are often outpacing the infrastructure’s ability to provide adequate energy resources.
Last spring, Harper and her HSU teammates competed against teams from many wellknown universities and won a $75,000 award at the Environmental Protection Agency’s national Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. In the summer, Harper traveled with two other student researchers to Bhutan to investigate energy issues in the landlocked Asian nation. Many Bhutanese villages use a local mini-hydro system for electrical power. “Basically, after work, everybody comes home and plugs in their rice cookers and water boilers and there isn’t enough power so you wind up with brownouts,” she says. “We were looking for a technical solution to the problem as well as developing education to teach people to stagger their energy use to make the best use of their grid.”
The team Harper was a part of developed GridShare, a device designed to be installed near a home’s electrical meter and encourage smarter energy use in two ways: by indicating the readiness of the grid to the user and by cutting power to large appliances during brownouts. And the results were promising. The student-designed device was able to reduce the duration of brownouts and further research, still ongoing at the Schatz Lab, aims to alleviate the brownouts altogether.
ELSEWHERE ON THE INTERNATIONAL front, the Schatz Lab is making an impact with its research into off grid lighting.
Professor Arne Jacobson, Schatz Lab co-director and faculty member in the Environmental Resources Engineering Department, has led the Off-Grid Lighting Project, which is developing design standards to boost the availability of affordable, high-quality off-grid lighting systems in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In places like Kenya, much of the population relies on kerosene or fuel-based lighting and there are profound effects. “It’s dirty, it’s dangerous, it generates indoor air pollution, and it’s inefficient. It ends up being pretty costly—you put in a lot of money and get a little amount of light,” explains Jacobson. To combat these issues, the project is developing standards for manufacturers to build reliable and safe LED-based lamps and flashlights for the developing-world market.
Jacobson’s project not only promises to deliver clean, safe lighting to much of the world, it also provides ample opportunities for Humboldt State students to engage in the hands-on research of important contemporary issues.
Patricia Lai is an Environmental Resources Engineering undergraduate pursuing her second degree after earning a bachelor’s in International Development at UC Berkeley. In the lighting lab, within Harry Griffith Hall, much of the work on lighting design standards is being conducted. There, Lai can often be found testing and retesting dozens of LED lighting systems.
The tests include analyzing battery capacity, solar charging efficiency and visual inspections to look for signs of obvious low quality (“We drop them and some just fall apart,” says Lai). One goal of the project is to develop a seal of approval that indicates the lamp that customers are about to buy has undergone rigorous testing and meets all qualifications. “We’re trying to encourage these product designers to improve their lights by providing quality assurance carrots to move them along,” Lai says.
The off-grid lighting project is part of the World Bank/ International Monetary Fund-sponsored program, Lighting Africa. Humboldt State has counterpart labs in China and Germany conducting similar research.
The work has taken Jacobson to Washington, D.C., where he’s currently on sabbatical from Humboldt State. In Washington, he’s working with a team of researchers to expand the Lighting Africa project to a global scale. The other portion of his work includes the Climate Ready initiative, a multi-million dollar program to transfer renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies to developing countries.
WHILE THE SCHATZ LAB is earning big points for its work on the global scene, it’s also intensely focused on local energy issues. That commitment is embodied by the group’s work on the Renewable Energy Secure Communities project (RESCO). The goal for the RESCO project is to develop a strategic plan that, by 2030, will have Humboldt County getting 75 to 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
In a packed auditorium in the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building, Schatz researchers Peter Alstone and Colin Sheppard recently presented their research as part of the RESCO group.
“Schatz’s role is developing the technical and economic research to figure out what’s going on in Humboldt County’s energy profile,” explains Alstone.
In order to uncover that data, Alstone and Sheppard, working with RESCO project manager and Schatz senior researcher Jim Zoellick, devised a computer modeling system that analyzed the county’s energy sources and uses. The model can be tweaked by researchers looking for outcomes to specific questions. “We really focused on asking useful questions to home in on a model that will either minimize emissions or costs, depending on what you’re looking for,” says Sheppard.
So far the results have been promising. Humboldt County currently produces a considerable amount of the energy it consumes, with biomass plants, hydroelectric power, and a natural gas-powered plant. Any remaining energy needed comes in via transmission wires from Redding, Calif. Further development into renewables, could expand run-of-the-river based hydro-electric (reportedly safer for wildlife than traditional dam-based hydro-electric), biomass, and wind power. The research team is working with the model and is partnering with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and local stakeholders to explore the economic impacts of developing renewables on the North Coast.
BACK IN THE LAB, Chapman is showing off one of the latest areas of interest for Schatz researchers. After investigating the viability of using biomass for producing gaseous fuels (while the technology definitely works, the process is not suitable for remote locations in the western U.S.), the group is now running tests on torrefied wood.
In a nutshell, torrefaction is the process of heating wood chips and or other biomass to between 280 and 300 degrees Celsius in the absence of air. The result is a product that’s energy-rich and half its original weight due to the loss of evaporated water.
The challenge now is developing markets for this wood product, something that could easily be done here on the North Coast where forest products are abundant. Closer scientific scrutiny is necessary to maximize the efficiency of this product and this is where Lehman’s proposal comes in. In a well-ventilated metal outbuilding near the lab, torrefaction equipment stands at the ready.
With another area of renewable energy about to open up for research, one thing is clear, the lab’s new 6,000-square-foot facility is definitely needed. The building includes an exterior laboratory, two indoor labs, a machine shop, a conference and demonstration room and offices for staff and graduate students. All this will be essential in welcoming the next generation of researchers to the lab, where they’ll begin the work that could bring the world closer to a future built on clean, renewable and safe energy.
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A 32 page, fully illustrated children’s book about banana slugs. I grew up in the Pacific North West and have always been fascinated by these yellow, slimy creatures. I took that love and turned it in a science book all about slugs.
Scientists always assumed it was a northern flying squirrel gliding through the canopies of Pacific coastal forests.
Humboldt’s flying squirrel was recently identified as a distinct species by a team of researchers that includes HSU biology instructor Nick Kerhoulas.
But now a recent in-depth investigation of the animal’s DNA is proving otherwise. The furry critter is actually a distinct species, which has been named Humboldt’s flying squirrel, and a new study describes how scientists are up-ending flying squirrel taxonomy.
“For over 200 years scientists have thought that only two species of flying squirrels live in the Americas,” says Brian Arbogast, a University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor who directed the study “Genetic Data Reveal a Cryptic Species of New World flying squirrel: Glaucomys oregonensis,” published in the Journal of Mammalogy. Arbogast was formerly a professor at Humboldt State University’s Department of Biological Sciences and head of the University’s Vertebrate Museum.
How could a distinct species exist along the Pacific coast and escape the notice of scientists who first observed the northern flying squirrel in 1801?
“They look similar, but Humboldt’s flying squirrels are generally smaller and darker. With new genetic information we know that there’s no gene flow between the two,” says Nick Kerhoulas, HSU Biology instructor and a member of the research team.
Humboldt’s flying squirrel is what scientists refer to as a “cryptic” species, one that was not earlier recognized as being distinct based on its physical appearance. “If it had been something as obvious as a bushier tail, or distinct markings, scientists would have identified that already,” says Kerhoulas.
The research team analyzed the DNA of northern flying squirrels from across North America, with an emphasis on the Pacific Coastal region of the continent. Researchers combined information from mitochondrial DNA sequences and information from a different type of DNA marker, known as microsatellites, which are short repetitive stretches of DNA typically found in the nuclear genome that can help scientists identify levels of gene flow among populations.
The results of the microsatellite analyses were striking. They indicated that no gene flow was occurring between the Pacific Coastal form and the widespread continental form of the northern flying squirrel. In other words, the Pacific Coastal flying squirrels were not simply a type of northern flying squirrel but were instead a separate, distinct species.
The new species is Glaucomys oregonensis, but the researchers gave it the common name “Humboldt’s flying squirrel” in honor of German explores and geographer Alexander Von Humboldt, and in a nod to the Northern California county that bears his name, says Arbogast.
Western scientists have studied flying squirrels in North America for well over 250 years. In 1758, Carolus Linnaeus, father of taxonomy—the formal system of assigning every species a unique, two-part Latin scientific name—bestowed the scientific name Mus volans, which translates to flying mouse, on what is known today as the southern flying squirrel.
The Latin name was later modified to Glaucomys volans, which has remained the same ever since. This species lives across much of eastern North America, primarily in deciduous forests. The range of this species extends further southward into the oak and pine forests in mountainous regions of Mexico and Central America.
Another species, the northern flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus, was formally described in 1801 and is generally larger than Glaucomys volans. The northern flying squirrel has an expansive range across the vast coniferous forests that cover much of Alaska and Canada, from where it extends southward in similar habitats through the major western mountain ranges of North America: the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, and also the highest peaks of the Appalachian Mountains in the east.
New World flying squirrels, which now include Humboldt’s flying squirrel, are small, nocturnally active, gliding squirrels that inhabit woodland areas. The nocturnal habits of these animals mean humans rarely see them.
The creatures don’t actually fly like bats or birds. Rather they glide from tree to tree by extending furred membranes of skin that stretch from forearm wrist to ankle on the hind leg. Their feather-like tail provides extra lift and also aids in steering.
They are capable of gliding for up to 100 meters and can make sharp, mid-air turns by using their tail as a rudder and moving their limbs to manipulate the shape and tautness of their gliding membranes.
These aerial feats are even more remarkable given that flying squirrels often have to navigate through dense forest in the darkness of night. Their large eyes give them excellent vision, but the mechanisms of their navigation and judgment of distances while gliding remain largely a mystery.
Full text of the study is available online.