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Notes from a talk
by Sharon Butler
Petaurus norfolcensis (pronounced pet-or’-us nor’-fol-ken’-sis)
was first described in 1792 and was incorrectly
named in the belief that the species originated on
Norfolk Island. They actually
originated from the Sydney region. Their habitat
ranges from northern QLD and NSW, down through
central VIC and has been located in isolated
pockets of SE SA. They inhabit
dry sclerophyll (eucalypt) forests and woodlands.
In northern QLD and New South Wales they occur in
dense coastal ranges with some wet forest areas
almost bordering rainforest.
The range of the Squirrel Glider overlaps that of
the smaller Sugar Glider, P. breviceps, and where
this occurs, the Squirrel Glider is usually the
more common, probably due to their size
Their head and body length is between 180-230mm
(the average being 210mm), the tail length
220-300mm (the average being 270mm) and weight
between 190-300grams (average 230grams).
Squirrel Gliders are similar to Sugar Gliders but
with a longer, more pointed face; lengthier and
narrower ears and what really differentiates them
from Sugar Gliders is their thicker, bushier tail
which is quite stunning!
Cages can be either conventional aviary style or a
suspended aviary. A group of up
to 4 Squirrel Gliders can quite happily live in a
suspended cage 4x4x10 with the floor of the cage
being 3 foot off the floor. We
would not recommended any more than this in a cage
A suspended cage works very well as any discarded
food is dropped through the floor of the cage to
the ground which reduces the risk of rotting food
being digested and causing any illness and
attracting of any rodents. The
main cage block consists of cages 9x4x17 and
again, can hold any number of individuals
remembering these marsupials can live together in
small groups and can also be kept in pairs.
This, of course, is personal preference.
You do what works best for your situation.
When housing Squirrel Gliders there are a couple
of things you should remember.
As they are gliders they live in trees, so a
provision of plenty of sturdy branches and ropes
(if you have access to them) is required. If the
gliders cage has a wire roof (as most do) you will
often find them handing upside down.
This is a great way to check any pouch formation
and about the only way you will be able to
appreciate their gliding membrane! They do very
little gliding in captivity!
Where access if possible, a fresh supply of
eucalypt branches would be beneficial as they like
to line their nest boxes. If
branches are not available, bedding straw or
meadow hay is a great alternative, although they
retain most of their body heat by huddling
Like all animals, Squirrel Gliders need a fresh
supply of water. Squirrel Gliders don’t normally
venture onto the ground so a raised area, about 12
to 18 inches off the ground, will suffice.
A good way of doing this is to use old logs
obtained from sites where trees have been felled
or anything that can be safely used without
jeopardising the animals welfare.
Although, as previously mentioned Squirrel Gliders
do not dwell much on the ground – if they do find
themselves on the ground they will dig and dig
very well. A suggesting is to
secure the ground with wire mesh, or sink the
extension walls into the ground by 12 inches or
Wherever possible, artificial nest boxes should be
used or hollow logs as a last resort.
If using logs, we would recommended that one end
of the log be blocked off by either a block of
wood cut to shape or a piece of tin bent to shape
and nailed to the log. If
possible, cut an inspection door into the log side
so access can be obtained to check on the welfare
of the animals. Failing that,
build your own nest boxes. This
is quite easy and is basically an L-shaped box.
The dimensions of the main bed chamber is
40x12x12cm with a removable lid. You
will be surprised at how many gliders can get into
such a small area! We make ours from ¼ inch
We do not seal with any form of sealant as gliders
sometimes chew on their box to provide more
In the wild, gliders live mainly on insects,
primarily beetles and caterpillars), gum produced
by acacias, the sap of certain eucalypts, nectar
and pollen. Nectar and pollen
play a very important part in the dietary
requirements. In captivity we
cannot exactly replicate this diet but we can try
to accommodate their wants and needs as best as
possible. Animals that are kept
in captivity basically adapt to whatever is
supplied to them. They become
complacent at the source of their food due to the
fact that we provide them with more food than they
know what to do with in one place at the same time
each day. Subsequently, this can
lead to obesity and as such a starve day once a
week is highly recommended.
Don’t despair – you won’t find them dead the next
morning. If they were in the
wild they would not have the abundance of food as
presented to them in a cage. They have it very
have a typical base diet which consists of apple,
carrots, rock melon, banana, orange, peas, sweet
corn. When food sources are more
plentiful (and cheaper) we use kiwi fruit, pears,
broccoli, cauliflower and anything that you can
get hold of. One food that they
really enjoy is dog biscuits.
They often hunt these out and become quite
pleasant natured animals whilst munching on the
bickies. Normally they hunt you
down until you provide their food for them!
Additional supplements can be nectar mix which is
made from honey, high protein baby cereal,
Sustagen, mashed boiled egg, dry lorikeet mix (a
dry pollen substitute) and equal parts Wombaroo
small carnivore mix and high protein supplement.
All three of these they will enjoy – although not
Sexual maturity, in our experience, is reached
around the 12 months of age period in both males
and females. One of the
distinguishing factors on the males is the
presence of a scent gland on the top of their
head. This is located in the
middle of the dark strip that runs from the nose
to the back of the lower middle back. In our
experience we have found that the stripe on the
male is more defined than that of the female.
These are our observations but this does not
necessarily mean this principle applies to every
animal. The other factor with
males reaching maturity is the dropping of the
scrotum. Up until this stage, it is
very difficult to sort the young males from the
young females as the pouch on a female is very
tightly closed. We have been
caught out several times this way.
As a group animal, a group will consist of a male
and up to two females. The group
often retains the previous seasons young. Up to
two young are produced in every season with the
gestation period approx. 30 days.
The young are left in the nest with a guardian
adult (not always the parents) until approximately
90 days of age. This is very
similar to the Sugar Glider. Squirrel Gliders have
one breeding season a year, usually the second
half of the year although two breedings can
sometimes occur. This does not
necessarily mean that they will produce
young each season.
How does one catch a mammal that has the potential
to cause serious bodily harm but with a face that
could melt a crowd? Not very
easy. Here is how we do it.
Without wearing gloves due to the lack of feeling
through the material, grasp firmly at the back of
the head. Don’t be scared of
causing them any harm, given the chance they will
try every trick in the book to wriggle their way
out – and this means bite! Once
you have them firmly in your grip, with your other
hand carefully pries their feet from the wire
door, wall or whatever they are attached to at the
time. Once they are free you can
then move them either to their new enclosure or to
the carry/transport box. You can
use a silk net, however you may encounter some
problems with the loss of visibility and feeling
through material, thus making it difficult to
grasp the animal. Sometimes the
animal will let go on its own and fall into the
net, from there just fold over the neck of the net
and carry to the new destination.
Once captured, Squirrel Gliders are very easy to
transport. We use a bird carry
cage which is three solid side, a solid base and
roof with a wire mesh front. At
one end is a door (don’t use carry boxes that have
the rubber inner door – this will make life very
difficult for you and the animal at release time.
They won’t push past the rubber and if you have to
grab them, pulling them through a restricted
opening may inflict some injury.
Once the animal is restrained in a box, cover them
with a towel and put them somewhere very quiet
until you need to move them. If
transporting by road don’t put them in the boot of
the car as they run the risk of falling about
during the trip, but place them on the back seat
and if need be put the seat belt round them.
Alternatively put them on the floor of the car
behind one of the front seats. Get them to their
new destination as quickly as possible to minimise
any stress. Try to move them
early morning when they are sleeping as you can
catch them easier. This also
misses the hot part of the day if you are doing
this in summer. When you release
the animal, try to do this early evening whilst it
is still fairly light. This will
give the animal time to adjust its eyes to the new
surroundings and give it time to venture from its
Never, never introduce a new animal into
an established group. This
may result in bullying and the subsequent death of
the new animal. Where possible try to
relocate the existing group along with the new
animal to a new enclosure. And
always provide more food dishes than normal for
the first night until they have time to adjust.
One new individual makes a big difference in the
amount of food consumed so this gives you the
opportunity to adjust accordingly.
Keeping Squirrel Gliders is highly rewarding and
these animals are very quiet and can become very
There is not a great deal of difference in keeping
Squirrel or Sugar Gliders, however you will
require a permit from NPWS for either species.