The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a marsupial native to the forests and rainforests of eastern and northern Australia, New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago. It was introduced to Tasmania and about 15 years ago to the United States. Sugar gliders are tree dwellers that live in colonies of 15 to 30 animals. During the day, these nocturnal animals rest in hollow trees, in nests lined with leaves.
Not surprisingly, the sugar glider gets its name from the fact that it has a sweet tooth: Apart from leafs, insects and small vertebrates, this omnivore loves to feed on the sweet sap of certain species of eucalyptus, acacia and gum trees.
Here, see my wings!
The second part of its name stems from the fact that the sugar glider has a built-in parachute that allows it to glide through the air for up to 165 ft (50 m), which makes it look as if it is flying. Of course it’s not a real parachute but a thin flap of skin stretching from the arms to the legs, comparable to us attaching a cape to our wrists and ankles and gluing it to our spine (hey, don’t try this at home!). The sugar glider’s Latin names means “rope dancer (petaurus) with a short head (breviceps).”
Weeee, here I come!
Being a tree dweller, the sugar glider uses its powerful hind legs to launch itself from one tall tree to glide to the next. Its long tail helps it to steer and stabilize itself before it lands on a branch on all fours.
Sugar gliders are small marsupials, only about 8 inches (20 cm) long from head to toe; double that if one counts the long tail. Adults weigh between 4 to 5.7 ounces (120-160 g). Their appearance is characterized by a blue-gray coat with a cream-coloured belly and a distinctive dark stripe running along their back.
Image: Greg the Busker
A sugar glider in the wild, hardly distinguishable from the leaves and branches.
A female sugar glider’s pregnancy is barely noticeable as the gestation period takes only 16 days. The babies – up to four joeys at a time but most commonly one or two – will then crawl into their mother’s pouch and stay there for about 70 days until they are fully developed. They are almost furless at first and their eyes will remain closed for another 12-14 days after they have moved into the nest.
Not mama’s pouch but also not bad.
The babies will stay inside the nest for 40-50 days before they start looking for food on their own. The mother keeps a close eye on them at first as the sugar glider’s natural enemies are plenty: owls, kookaburras, cats, goannas (sand monitor lizards) and snakes.
Image: Wm Jas
Mother and baby sleeping, all snuggled up.
Their cuteness is not an advantage when it comes to their relationship with humans – sugar gliders went through a popularity craze, especially earlier this year after many celebrities were spotted “wearing” them. Fortunately, they are considered exotic animals in many countries and therefore forbidden to be kept as household pets. They are legal to own as domestic house pets throughout the United States though, except in California.
Here’s an adorable video of a happy sugar glider colony.
Whoever plans on getting a sugar glider as a pet should really think this decision through thoroughly as these critters bond for life, which is 10-15 years.