Sugar Glider

Petaurus breviceps
NATURAL HISTORY 

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The Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a gliding possum from the genus Petaurus, belonging to the family Petauroidea. Petaurus (pronounced pet-or’-us) means rope-dancer and breviceps (pronounced brev’-ee-seps) means short-headed. It is intermediate in size, found in between the tiny Feathertail Glider and the much larger Greater Glider. The Sugar Glider occurs in most of northern and eastern mainland Australia and Tasmania. Their habitats consist of forests and woodlands, especially when they have access to dense pockets of Acacia. They can thrive in strips and patches of forest that remain on cleared agricultural land.

The diet of the Sugar Glider in the wild primarily consists of pollen, nectar, insects and sap. Sugar Gliders are locally common where tree hollows are available and they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. In extreme conditions they can conserve their energy by huddling together with others.

CAPTIVE HUSBANDRY 

Cages can be placed inside or outside. If kept inside, regular cleaning will be necessary to avoid unacceptable odours (usually scent marking by the dominant males). Cages for keeping two or three Sugar Gliders can be as small as 1800 mm x 900 mm x 1800 mm. The standard 12 mm square weld mesh (light gauge is strong enough) is recommended. Young gliders can squeeze through 2.5 cm wire mesh without any trouble. 

Numerous internal branches, nest boxes, etc are required. Fresh eucalypt branches with leaves are necessary for providing nesting materials. Care must be taken with outdoor enclosures to avoid extremes of temperatures and adverse winter weather conditions. Thus, the use of thick-walled, natural hollow logs, placed under some cover from rain, are recommended for these animals.

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HANDLING 

Avoid handling these animals by the tail as the fur will strip off after which the tail will die, wither away and drop off. Gliders have very sharp teeth and claws and are capable of inflicting quite painful scratches and similar injuries. Thus, inexperienced handlers may care to wear gloves. 

DIET 

Gliders need a varied diet and will do very well on a feeding regime consisting of various fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and nuts, such as apple, pear, fresh sweet corn, carrot, cucumber, sunflower seed, sultanas, banana, rock melon, watermelon, peanuts and almonds. In addition, some form of live foods, such as mealworms, crickets and moths, plus fresh branches, leaves, flowers of eucalypt and other native trees and shrubs are highly recommended. An excellent supplement which can be added to the above diet is a glider mixture, which consists of honey, water, hard boiled egg, sustagen, pollen, Wombaroo Small Carnivore, Wombaroo High Protein Supplement (go to see Healthy Bird link for products details ) and high protein baby cereal. 

Fresh water should be available at all times. 

HEALTH 

If not given a regular supply of fresh eucalypt branches, or a sufficiently varied diet, some animals will develop teeth problems. If this problem is noticed and Veterinary attention is sought early enough, it may be possible to prevent it from becoming fatal. Inbreeding, an unfortunately common practice for nearly all native mammal species in captivity, appears to exacerbate the incidence of teeth deformities in older (i.e. over 4 years of age) animals. 

Fighting will sometimes occur within a group of gliders. Such fights may result in the loss of toes, tails, ear tips, etc. Usually such injuries will heal themselves. Some animals will prove incompatible, and will require permanent separation. Be aware of your animals reactions to each other, and be prepared to separate animals if and when required. Avoid housing separate colonies of gliders in adjacent cages where animals can bite each other through the dividing wire. Whenever possible, use double-wired divisions. 

SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR 

Gliders have very strong social bonds and members of a colony know each other intimately by their scent.  Males mark their territory by scenting from head glands and both sexes regularly mark (using urine) practically everything in their enclosure. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to introduce new animals to an established colony. Males will fight to the death in some cases. Females have been known to fight quite viciously also.  Members of a colony will gang up on new animals. Always introduce new animals to each other in neutral surroundings, and never attempt to do this too quickly. That is, start with animals in separate cages, side by side. Swap over nest boxes after a week, then wait a few days and place both animals into a neutral enclosure with a new nest box. This usually works quite well. If bad fighting occurs, separate the animals and repeat the procedure at a late date. 

BREEDING 

When breeding, Sugar Gliders are best maintained as pairs or trios (i.e. one male with one or two females). Mating generally occurs in late autumn or early winter and one or two young form the litter. Young stay in the pouch until they are around 3 month of age. After that, they are left in the nest for a further month, often in the protective custody of the male while the female is out searching for food. During the first few days after leaving the nest, the young don’t venture far by themselves and are frequently seen riding on the female’s back. Given appropriate conditions and diet, some females can have a second litter in autumn. Gliders can live for 6 -7 years in captivity. They breed best in their first 4 years. 

GENERAL COMMENTS 

No matter how hard you may try, gliders rarely adapt to diurnal (i.e. daytime) activity. Consequently, they are an animal that is commonly kept but rarely seen. Gliders will breed well in captivity, but only if kept in appropriate enclosures and carefully maintained on a proper diet.

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