Sugar Gliders in the Wild
Sugar Glider Description
The sugar glider is a small omnivorous marsupial. The common name refers to its preference for sugary nectarous foods. It has the ability to glide through the air, much like a flying squirrel. They have similar appearance and habits to the flying squirrel but are not closely related.
They have a thin membrane that stretches between their front and rear legs, much like the flying squirrels in North America. They are 9½ - 12 inches long with their tails making up half of their length and weigh less than 3-4 ounces. Sugar gliders are nocturnal. In the wild, sugar gliders live about 4-5 years.
In the wild, sugar gliders live in trees, and rarely, if ever, touch the ground. They nest in holes in old growth trees. Sugar gliders can be found throughout the northern and eastern parts of mainland Australia, and in Tasmania, Papua New Guinea and several associated isles, the Bismarck Archipelago, Louisiade Archipelago, and certain isles of Indonesia, Halmahera Islands of the North Moluccas. They can be found in any forest where there is a suitable food supply, but most are commonly found in forests with eucalyptus trees. Being nocturnal, they sleep in their nests during the day and are active at night. During the night they hunt insects and small vertebrates, and feed on the sweet sap of certain species of eucalyptus, acacia and gum trees.
The sugar glider has a squirrel-like body with a long, partially prehensiletail. The males are larger than the females and have bald patches on their head and chest. Their length from the nose to the tip of the tail is about 12–13 inches, the (body itself is approx. 5–6 inches). A sugar glider has a thick, soft fur coat that is usually blue-grey; some have been known to be yellow, tan or (rarely)albino. A black stripe is seen from its nose to midway on its back. Its belly, throat, and chest are cream in color.
Being nocturnal, its large eyes help it to see at night, and its ears swivel to help locate prey in the dark.
It has five digits on each foot, each having a claw, except for the opposable toe on the hind feet. Also on the hind feet, the second and third digits are partially fused together, forming a grooming comb. Its most striking feature is a membrane, that extends from the fifth finger to the first toe. When legs are stretched out, this membrane allows the sugar glider to glide a considerable distance.
There are four scent glands, used for marking purposes, mainly by the male. The frontal gland is easily seen on an adult male as a bald spot.
The female has a pouch in the middle of her abdomen to carry offspring.
The sugar glider has a remarkable ability to glide and is achieved through flaps or membranes of loose skin which extend between the fifth finger of each hand to the first toe of each foot. The animal launches itself from a tree, spreading its limbs to expose the gliding membranes gliding membranes from his wrists to his ankles open up and slow his descent, much like a parachute. He can change the curvature of the membrane by moving his legs to regulate the glide, and also uses his tail (which is as long as his body) like a rudder. They have been known to glide over 150 feet.
Diet and nutrition
Sugar gliders are seasonally adapted omnivores with a wide variety of foods in their diet. They are opportunistic feeders and can be carnivorous (preying mostly on lizards and small birds), and eat many other foods when available, such as nectar, acacia seeds, bird eggs, pollen, fungi and native fruits.
In captivity, they can suffer from calcium deficiencies if not fed an adequate diet. A lack of calcium in the diet causes the body to leach calcium from the bones, with the hind legs first to show noticeable dysfunction sometimes known as hind leg paralysis (HLP). Their diet should be 50% insects or other sources of protein, 25% fruit and 25% vegetables.
The age of sexual maturity in sugar gliders varies slightly between the males and females. The males reach maturity at 4 to 12 months of age, while females require from 8 to 12 months. In the wild, sugar gliders breed once or twice a year depending on the climate and habitat conditions, while they can breed multiple times a year in captivity as a result of consistent living conditions and proper diet.
Sugar gliders, like kangaroos, have a pouch. About 16 days after mating, the small embryos pass through the vagina and crawl to the pouch. There they nurse off of their mother's milk and develop for another 60-70 days. (As in kangaroos, the young are called 'joeys.'). The joey gradually spills out of the pouch until it falls out completely. It emerges virtually without fur, and the eyes will remain closed for another 12–14 days. During this time, the joey will begin to mature by growing fur and increasing gradually in size. It takes about two months for the offspring to be completely weaned, after that time, the mother sugar glider will leave them in the nest while she forages for food. And at four months, the young glider is on its own.
Sugar Gliders are highly social animals especially for marsupials. They live in small family groups or colonies consisting of up to seven adults, plus the current season's young which leave as soon as they are able to, all sharing a nest and defending their territory This also helps to conserve heat when the weather is cold. They engage in social grooming, which in addition to improving hygiene and health, helps bond the colony and establish group identity.
A dominant adult male will mark his territory and members of the group with saliva and a scent produced by separate glands on the forehead and chest. Intruders who lack the appropriate scent marking are expelled violently. Each colony defends a territory of about 2.5 acres where eucalyptus trees provide a staple food source. Within the colony, typically no fighting takes place beyond threatening behavior. They communicate using a wide variety of vocal sounds.
The sugar glider is not considered endangered, and its conservation rank is "Least Concern". Despite the loss of natural habitat in Australia over the last 200 years, it is adaptable and capable of living in small patches of remnant bush, particularly if it does not have to cross large expanses of cleared land to reach them.