Sugar glider shares similar habits and appearance with the Flying squirrel, although these two animals are not close relatives. The best-known glider in Australia, this marsupial has a small, softly-furred body with a rather bushy and prehensile tail. The Sugar gliders are so called due to loving sweet food such as sugar and honey, while the word ‘glider’ refers to their gliding habit when moving between trees.
They glide by means of so-called ‘patagium’ – a thin membrane of skin, covered with fur. This gliding membrane is found between their wrists to their ankles. When not in use, it looks like a wavy line, stretching along their body. Males of this species exhibit bald spots on their heads and chests. Females are considerably smaller than males.
Read Pritish Kumar Halder’s brief description about Australia’s famous Sugar Glider.
Sugar gliders occur in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and surrounding islands as well as northern and eastern parts of mainland Australia. In 1835,
they were introduced to Tasmania, where these animals are currently common and widespread in inland areas. They are able to live in a wide variety of habitats such as plantations, rural gardens, roadside areas as well as forests such as rainforest, eucalypt forest and woodland.
Habits and Lifestyle
These nocturnal animals spend their daytime hours in hollows, which are lined with leaves. They transfer materials to these nests, coiled in their tails. They are
highly social and active animals, forming groups, which typically consist of 7 or more adult individuals and their offspring. In order to keep warm and conserve heat in cold weather, these animals may huddle together or, occasionally, enter short periods of torpor. Group members do not fight each other, but are known to display threatening behavior.
Each group of Sugar gliders has a dominant male, which is the leader of the group. In order to identify members of its group, he uses a communication system of scent-marking. The dominant male also scent-marks and fiercely defends the territory against intruders. Individuals within the group recognize each other by group scent. Outsiders, which do not belong to the group, are identified due to not sharing the group scent. If such cases do occur, intruders are usually violently attacked by the group members.
Diet and Nutrition
These omnivorous animals particularly favor sweet sap of the eucalyptus tree, supplementing their diet with pollen, nectar, insects and their larvae, arachnids as well as small vertebrates.
Sugar gliders are generally considered to be polygynous, which means that one male mates with multiple females. Populations in the northern parts of their range breed year-round.
In the south, sugar gliders breed with a peak period, occurring from June to November, when insects, upon which they feed, are most abundant. Gestation period lasts for 16 days, yielding 1 -2 babies. Immediately after birth, offspring of these marsupials climb into the pouch of their mother, where they continue to grow for around 40 days.
They begin coming out of the pouch at 60 – 70 days. At 111 days old, young leave the nest, after which they usually ride the back of their mother, accompanying her when she forages. And finally, when young reach independence at 7 – 10 months old, the female leaves them to give birth to another litter. Males of this species are sexually mature by 1 year old, whereas females are able to produce offspring at 8 – 15 months old.
Although there are no notable threats to the population of Sugar gliders, the animals are potentially threatened by bushfires as well as habitat destruction as a result of land clearing for agriculture.
According to IUCN, the Sugar glider is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Numbers of their population are stable, and the species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Fun Facts for Kids
- When a sugar glider is angry, it will warn the opponent by leaning back and emitting a chattering sound, which is quite similar to that, produced by a small, yapping dog. If the attempt was unsuccessful, the animal will take drastic measures, striking the opponent with full force.
- When moving between trees, this animal uses its gliding membrane, found between its wrists and ankles. When flying, the animal is able to control and change the size and shape of the membrane by changing the position of its limbs. Meanwhile, the tail helps them manage the flight, acting as a rudder.
- These agile arboreal animals are able to glide up to 45 meters at a time. When finishing the glide, they use their sharp claws to cling onto nearby branches.
- In order to identify group members, males in the group use their special scent glands, found on their forehead and chest, marking all members of their group.
- On their hind limbs, sugar gliders have grooming combs, made up of two webbed toes.
- Anklebones of these animals are extremely flexible, rotating through up to 180 degrees, due to which they can climb down vertical tree trunks head first.
- Females of this species are able to simultaneously produce two types of milk in each of their nipples, intended for two joeys of different ages. Each type of milk has its own unique composition, which is suitable for a joey of a certain age.
- Sugar gliders are known to use a wide variety of vocalizations to communicate with conspecifics. They give out clicking sound, which resembles that of a rusty chainsaw. Moreover, these marsupials can even bark like small dogs, typically around a full moon.