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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 difference.
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 this size.
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 together.
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 so.
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 plywood.
We do not seal with any form of sealant as gliders sometimes chew on their box to provide more nesting material.
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 easy.
We 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 absolutely necessary.
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 carry box.
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 tame.
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.
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