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GLIDERS
Feathertail Glider
Greater Glider
Mahogany Glider
Squirrel Glider
Sugar Glider
Yellow-bellied Glider
SUGAR GLIDER

Sugar Glider
Photo © Steve Parish Publishing

(Petaurus breviceps)

The sugar glider is possibly the most commonly known of all the glider species in Australia.  The sugar glider has 5 known subspecies. 2 subspecies are found in Papua New Guinea, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The South Australian subspecies is P.b. breviceps, Queensland’s subspecies is P.b. longicaudatus, and Northern Territory and Western Australia subspecies is P.b. ariel. The sugar glider’s gliding distance is very similar to the squirrel glider as it can also glide up to 90 meters between trees.

Sugar gliders earned their name from their love of eating nectar and flowers but they eat insects too. The scientific name Petaurus breviceps means short-headed rope dancer. The sugar glider was actually introduced into Tasmania in 1835, and remains the only species of glider in the state. The sugar glider is widely used in the pet trade especially in the United States of America. 

Description

The sugar glider’s fur is a blue-grey to brown grey above with a dark stripe that extends from the middle of the head to the mid-back region. The tail can have a white tip whereas the squirrel glider never has a white tip. The face of the sugar glider is blunter than the squirrel glider as well. The glider is about the size of a rat, the tail is about the thickness of a human thumb and is slimmer than the squirrel glider.

Body measurements:

  • Head-body length, 160-210 averaging 170 mm
  • Tail length, 165-210 averaging 190 mm
  • Weight, males 115-160 averaging 140 grams, females 95-135 averaging 115 grams.

The gliding membrane extends from wrist to ankle.

Signs

A loud cry similar to YIP-YIP-YIP. Droppings are small, black and pointed at one end sometimes joined by hairs. These are about 12 mm long and 4 mm wide.


Sugar Glider
Photo © Steve Parish Publishing

Habitat

  • Occur in both wet and dry woodlands usually those with acacia present
  • Depend on hollows for shelter
  • Able to thrive in remnant patches of vegetation
  • Have been successfully introduced into revegetated areas.

Ecology

Life History

Sugar gliders live in large groups during winter to conserve energy and these large groups disband during the summer months. The sugar glider is also one of the largest marsupials that have been confirmed to enter torpor. They can enter torpor daily for 13 hours at a time on days that would require large amounts of energy to maintain body temperature - these days include rainy days where the food sources are likely to be washed away and severe cold events.


Sugar Glider
Photo © Steve Parish Publishing

Sugar gliders have been known to live up to 12 years however it is more common for them to live for 4-5 years in the wild.

Breeding

Birth normally occurs 16 days after mating. This commonly takes place between August and December. Sugar gliders have 2 young per litter and can have 2 litters per year.

Males also assist with the care of the young; it is not all left to the females. Young are attached to the teat for 40 days, and emerge at 60-70 days. After emerging young are left in a nest for a further 50 days. Young will then forage with their mother until they are 7-10 months old.

Females reach sexual maturity at 8-15 months of age whereas males reach sexual maturity at 12 months of age.

Diet

The sugar glider’s diet consists of insects, gums of wattle trees and eucalypt trees, manna (a white carbohydrate-rich crystalline substance that occurs on eucalyptus leaves), honeydew, nectar, pollen, sap, and invertebrates.

  • It is estimated that a single colony can consume up to 200 kg of insects per year
  • Small birds of both the wild and captive variety also appear to be on the menu
  • They are not timid animals and will defend a food source aggressively against larger animals.

Home Range

The dominant male marks his territory with saliva and a scent produced by separate glands on his forehead and chest.

Sugar gliders usually have a home range of about 0.5-7.1 hectares, and have a population density of between 0.01-6.1 individuals per hectare.
Native predators in their range include kookaburras, owls, goannas, snakes, and quolls.

Distribution

The sugar glider is the most widespread of all the glider species and the most widespread of all arboreal marsupials in Australia. Occur in every state and territory of Australia, however is largely confined to the coastal strips of Australia. It was introduced into Tasmania in 1835, occurs in New Guinea and other various neighbouring islands.

Threats

  • Feral Predators such as cats, foxes, and dogs
  • Habitat clearing
  • Habitat fragmentation.

Conservation Status

  • Queensland: Least Concern
  • National: not listed
  • IUCN: Least Concern.

Mitigation Practices

  • Installation of glider poles
  • Installation of nest boxes.

Bibliography

  • Beyer, G.L., and Goldingay, R.L. (2006). The value of nest boxes in the research and management of Australian hollow-using arboreal marsupials. Wildlife Research 33: 161-174.
  • Davey, S.M. (1990). Methods for surveying the abundance and distribution of arboreal marsupials in a South Coast Forest of New South Wales. Australian Wildlife Research
  • Harper, M.J., McCarthy, M.A., and van der Ree, R. (2005). The use of nest boxes in urban natural vegetation remnants by vertebrate fauna. Wildlife Research 32: 509-516.
  • Jackson, S.M. (2000). Population dynamics and life history of the mahogany glider, Petaurus gracilis, and the sugar glider, Petaurus brevicpes, in north Queensland. Wildlife Research 27: 21-37.
  • Jackson, S.M., and Jackson, C.N. (2002). Time allocation to foraging in the mahogany glider Petaurus gracilis (Marsupialia, Petauridae) and a comparison of activity times in exudivorous and folivorous possums and gliders. Journal of Zoology London 256: 271-277.
  • Lennox, A.M. (2007). Emergency and critical care procedures in sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps), African hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris), and prairie dogs (Cynomys spp).
  • Nagy, K.A, and Suckling, G.C. (1985). Field Energetics and Water Balance of Sugar Gliders, Petaurus breviceps (Marsupialia:Petauridae). Australian Journal of Zoology
  • Quin, D.G. (1995). Population ecology of the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and the sugar glider (P. breviceps) (marsupialia: Petauridae) at Limeburners Creek, on the Central North Coast of Newe South Wales. Wildlife Research
  • Quin, D.G., Smith, A.P., and Norton, T.W. (1996). Eco-geographic variation in size and sexual dimorphism in sugar gliders and squirrel gliders (Marsupialia: Petauridae). Australian Journal of Zoology 44: 19-45.
  • Smith, A.P. (1982). A Report on Sugar Glider Feeding and Diet in Australia and Its Impact on Future Captive Diet. Journal of Animal Ecology
  • Suckling, G.C. (1984). Population Ecology of the Sugar glider, Petaurus brevicpes, in a system of fragmented habitats. Australian Wildlife Research 11: 49-75.
  • van der Ree, R. (2002). The population ecology of the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) within a network of remnant linear habitats. Australian Wildlife Research
  • van der Ree, R, Bennett, A.F., and Gilmore, D.C. (2003). Gap-crossing by gliding marsupials: threshold for the use of isolated woodland patches in an agricultural landscape. Biological Conservation 115: 241-249.