Squirrel glider

© Jasmine Zeleny

Similar to, and often mistaken for, the more common sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps), the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) is, in fact, the larger of the two with a long bushy tail as wide as the body at the base and a longer, pointed face. Squirrel gliders and sugar gliders can co-occur in some areas and where they do, squirrel gliders are usually the more abundant of the two species. Like it’s smaller cousin, the squirrel glider can glide up to 90 metres between trees.

Quick facts

COMMON NAME:
Squirrel glider

SCIENTIFIC NAME:
Petaurus norfolcensis

FAMILY:
Petauridae

QLD CONSERVATION STATUS:
Common

NATIONAL CONSERVATION STATUS:
Not listed

How we help gliders

Through its dedicated Queensland Glider Network program, Wildlife Queensland has been educating communities and raising awareness of the importance of gliders and revegetating glider habitat, installing nest boxes in areas where hollow-bearing trees are limited, implementing monitoring programs for local glider populations, and enhancing vital glider habitat.

squirrel glider© Todd Burrows

Did you know?

The scientific name Petaurus norfolcensis means Norfolk Island rope dancer, however, this is incorrect because the squirrel glider does not occur on Norfolk Island.

Squirrel glider© Canva NFP

Threats to squirrel gliders

    • Feral predators such as dogs, cats, and foxes.
    • Habitat clearing.
    • Habitat fragmentation.
    • Barbed wire fences, trapping the animal by its gliding membrane unless assisted.

 

Home range

Squirrel gliders have a home range of 3-5 hectares in which it lives. The population density of these gliders can be between 0.01-0.2 individuals per hectare.  Many squirrel gliders have a strong affinity with their home range and even if clearing claims most of the home range they will not move to adjacent vegetation.

Squirrel gliders will commonly select hollows with tight-fitting entrances. This is to prevent entry by potential predators. In the tree hollows squirrel gliders are known to make a nest of eucalypt leaves into a rough ball shape. Squirrel gliders can use between 1 to 9 different dens (nest sites) within their home range.

Natural predators in their range include goannas, quolls, pythons, and owls.

Distribution

The glider occurs in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. In Victoria and South Australia, its range is limited. In Queensland and New South Wales, it occurs on most of the east coast of the states. Their range covers the drier inland slopes of the Great Dividing Range to the coastal areas. They also occur on Fraser Island, North and South Stradbroke Island, Moreton Island and Ricketts Island.

Description

Soft grey fur covers the body with a dark strip down the middle of its head and body. Their tail is usually black-tipped, never white-tipped as seen in sugar gliders. Belly colour varies on location. In Queensland and northern New South Wales, the colour can be yellow to mustard depending on the age of the animal, while Victoria is always a white to cream colour.

Compared to the sugar glider, the head is longer and more pointed and the ears are longer and narrower. Their tail is very fluffy and is wider at the base than that of the sugar glider. The squirrel glider is the size of a large rat.

Body measurements:

    • Head-body length, 180-230 averaging 210 mm.
    • Tail length, 220-300 averaging 270 mm.
    • Weight, 190-300 averaging 230 grams.

Signs

  • A persistent, throaty NAR-WHERE sound.
  • Droppings are knobby, pointed cylinders often with gum bands. These are about 15 mm long and 5 mm wide.

Habitat

  • Primarily occur in woodland and open forest.
  • Canopy usually consists of eucalyptus, angophora or corymbia species.
  • Under-storey and mid-storey consist of primarily acacia or banksia.
  • Trees and shrubs that provide a winter source of nectar are very important
  • Hollow-bearing trees are important for shelter.
  • Usually found in drier forests but occasionally in the rainforest in southern Queensland.
  • Can also be found in highly urban areas such as Brisbane City.

Ecology

Life history

Squirrel gliders are known to live in groups including one or two adult males and females in addition to offspring.  They can live up to 6 years; however, it is more typically 3-5 years.

Breeding

Breeding season occurs from June to January. Males can mate with 1 or more females per breeding season. Squirrel gliders are polyoestrous, meaning they have more than 1 reproduction cycle a year. Each year they can produce 1-2 litters of 1-2 young. They spend 4 months to wean the young, and the young disperse at about 12-18 months of age. Females are capable of breeding at 12 months of age.

Food

The squirrel glider’s diet consists of nectar, pollen, plant exudates (acacia gum and eucalypt sap), invertebrates and honeydew (a sugary coating on leaves made by scale insects).

  • Diet varies across season depending on the resources available.
  • They consume more invertebrates than any other glider species.
  • They discard the hard exoskeleton due to the lack of nutritional value.
  • They have even been noted to eat roosting birds and even the eggs from nests.
  • 48% of feeding time consists of searching and feeding on pollen and nectar, 35% on invertebrates, 15% on honeydew and 2% on lerps.

Mitigation practices

  • Installation of nest boxes.
  • Replacement of barbed wire with straight wire.
  • Conservation of habitats and habitat corridors.

More information

Publications & papers

  • Ball, T.M., and Goldingay, R.L. (2008). Can wooden poles be used to reconnect habitat for a gliding mammal? Landscape and Urban Planning  87:140-146.
  • Beyer, G. (2002). Group structure of the squirrel glider in southeast Queensland. Undergraduate paper, Southern Cross University, Lismore.
  • Chrismar, A. (2003). Dietary requirements of the squirrel glider in a Brisbane City urban remnant. Undergraduate paper, Southern Cross University, Lismore.
  • Dobson, M. (2002). The Ecology of the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in the urban Brisbane Landscape. Honours Thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore.
  • Dobson, M., Goldingay, R.L. and Sharpe, D.J. (2005). Feeding Behaviour of the squirrel glider in remnant habitat in Brisbane. Australian Mammalogy 27: 27-35.
  • Goldingay, R.L. and Sharpe, D.J. (2001). Evaluation of the Minnippi Parklands Squirrel Glider Investigation and Squirrel glider population viability. Southern Cross University, Lismore.
  • Goldingay, R.L., and Sharpe, D.J. (2004). How effective is spotlighting for detecting the squirrel glider? Wildlife Research 31: 443-449.
  • Goldingay, R.L., and Sharpe, D.J. (2004). How do we conserve the squirrel glider in Brisbane’s urban matrix? Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna: 663-677.
  • Grimson, M. (2004). A population density assessment of the squirrel glider at Belmont Hills Bushland Reserve Brisbane. Undergraduate paper, Southern Cross University, Lismore.
  • Rowston, C., and Catterall, C.P. (2004). Habitat segregation, competition and selective deforestation: effects on the conservation status of two similar Petaurus gliders. Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna: 741-747.
  • Shrimpton, A. (2003). A trapping survey of the squirrel glider population at Mount Petrie Bushland reserve Brisbane. Undergraduate paper, Southern Cross University, Lismore.
  • 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.

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