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| Regions > Australasia > Sugar glider

Sugar glider

Location at the Zoo: Australasia



Region:

Australia

Class:

Mammalia

Order:

Marsupialia

Family:

Petauridae

Genus:

Petaurus

Scientific Name:

Petaurus breviceps

Description

: The sugar glider is a small marsupial. It has a dark stripe from its face, between the eyes, to mid-back. Its back fur is fine, velvety fawn-grey to blue-grey and its belly is pale grey to medium grey. Its tail is well furred and the flying membrane extends from wrist to ankle. Its hind feet are shaped like a hand; the claw-less big toe is opposable to the rest of the foot, allowing for a firm grasp of branches. All the other toes of the hands and feet have claws. The second and third toes on the hind feet are partially fused (syndactylous) together. Average length, including the tail is from 24 to 30 cm with the tail being slightly longer than the body. Weight is from 100 to 160 grams. The male is larger than the female.

Distribution

: From south-eastern Australia and southern Victoria to Cape York (range extends inland to western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales) through the northern parts of Northern Territory and the northern Kimberly Range of Western Australia. Also found in Tasmania (introduced), as well some of New Guinea’s adjacent islands.

Habitat

: All types of forests and woodlands provided they can find enough hollow trees for nesting.



Food

: Their diet consists of flower nectar, acacia gum, eucalypt sap, and insects. One study of a Victorian population showed that individuals spent about 43% of their foraging time feeding on gum, 12% on eucalypt sap and 28% on searching for invertebrates. Sap is accessed by stripping and piercing branches using its powerful incisors. As well as feeding on insects and their larvae, small vertebrates such as mice and birds are consumed. They are very agile and can catch moths in mid-flight. When feeding on the nectar of blossoms, pollen clings to its whiskers and fur, thus bringing about cross-pollination of trees.

Reproduction and Development

: There is no well defined breeding season. After a gestation period of approximately 16 - 21 days, they give birth to one to three young. The young stay in the well-developed, forward opening pouch (with two to four nipples) for about two months. When they become too large to carry, they are left in the nest in a hollow or hole in a eucalyptus tree while the group is off feeding.

The eyes are still closed when they first leave the pouch, but open soon afterwards, at around 80 days. At about four months, they begin to move outside the nest as part of the family group and are sexually mature within the first year. They live in communities of family groups, which are believed to be the young of several seasons who have continued to live with the original pair. They have been known to live more than ten years.

Adaptations

: Sugar gliders are arboreal and nocturnal. They rest in hollows or in a hole in a eucalyptus tree, which they line with leaves that they bite off and carry to their hollow using their tails. They collect leaves for the nest by hanging by their hind feet, then passing the leaves from forefeet to hind feet, and in turn, to the tail which then coils around the nesting material. The tail, when employed in this manner cannot be used for gliding flight, so the sugar glider transports its load of leaves among the branches to its hollow.
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The sugar glider is one of a number of volplaning (gliding) possums in Australia. This remarkable ability to glide is achieved through a flap of loose skin or membrane which extends between the fifth finger of the hand to the first toe of the foot. This extension of loose skin along its sides is spread by extending the legs so that it becomes stretched between the outer side of the hand and ankle. The animal launches itself from a tree, spreads its limbs to expose the gliding membrane and directs its glide through subtle changes in the curvature of the membrane. They can glide for 50 - 150 metres. The long, well-furred tail is used as a balance when it glides.

The animals produce a scent which plays a considerable role in organization (and hence peace-keeping) within the group. The scent is mostly produced by glands situated between the eye and ear, on the chest and around the genital area. Each animal has its own characteristic smell, but in addition, through marking each other, the whole group becomes permeated with the scent of particular high-ranking males within it. They also mark objects in their territory with glandular secretions and excretions. They seldom fight among themselves, but will fight with members of the same sex belonging to a different group.

Since the sugar glider also may occur in the southern (colder) regions, they must be able to deal effectively with the cold. Snuggling together in the warm leafy nest helps them save energy. If the weather becomes too cold, they are able to fall into a state of dormancy and torpor, which is a brief state of hibernation. They also enter a state of torpor during long periods of food scarcity.



Threats to Survival

: Natural enemies include owls, snakes, lizards, and cats.

Status

: IUCN: Least Concern; CITES: Not Listed

Zoo Diet

: Mixed fruit, figs, crickets, mealworms, Science Diet Feline Maintenance, TZ cricket supplement, salt spools, possum honey mixture, mice, and fruit gelatin.


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