The sugar glider is a marsupial that lives in Australia and New Guinea. This much-loved animal is famous for being able to glide from tree to tree, using ‘wings’ that stretch between its legs. This article contains sugar glider facts, and is part of the Active Wild Australian Animals series.
Sugar Glider Facts: Introduction
Sugar gliders are members of the Petauridae family, which consists of 11 species of possums. The sugar glider, and five other members of this family, are ‘wrist-winged gliders’. These gliding possums have a membrane between their fore and hind legs that stretches out when the animal leaps from a tree, allowing them to glide for considerable distances.
Petauridae are members of the large order Diprotodontia, which includes other marsupials such as kangaroos, koalas and wombats.
The sugar glider’s scientific name is Petaurus breviceps, which means ‘short-headed rope dancer’.
There are currently 7 recognised sugar glider subspecies, 3 of which live in Australia (the other 4 live in New Guinea). However, there is some debate as to whether all of these should be regarded as subspecies.
Sugar gliders are relatively small animals, growing to around 24 - 30 cm (12-13 inches) in length, including their long tails.
They weigh between 85 and 142 grams (3 and 5 ounces).
Males are larger than females.
What Do Sugar Gliders Look Like?
The sugar glider looks like a small squirrel. It has short grey fur, not unlike that of a koala. Its soft underside fur is a creamy-white.
The sugar glider has black rings around its big, black eyes, and a black stripe running down the centre of its face and ending just above its nose.
This black stripe continues down the back of the sugar glider and ends before its wide, rather bushy grey tail.
The sugar glider has 5 digits on each foot. Its hind feet each have an opposable toe, allowing the sugar glider to grip onto branches.
The sugar glider’s tail is long and flat and helps the animal to balance and steer while it is gliding. The tail is also partially prehensile (able to grip) and is used to carry leaves into its nest.
The video below shows this prehensile tail in use.
What separates the gliders from the other possums in the Petauridae family is the soft, furry membrane, known as a patagium, which extends from either side of the animal’s body to its ankles and wrists.
Sugar Gliders Flying
The membrane allows sugar gliders to glide from tree to tree. This they do both to find food and to avoid predators. It has even been known for sugar gliders to leap out to catch flying insects.
Sugar gliders use their limbs, tail and torsos to control their flight, and land with all four feet held out to grab the tree.
Sugar gliders can glide for considerable distances. Their flights have been measured at over 45 metres (around 150 feet).
The video below shows how a sugar glider uses its wing-like membranes to glide:
Where Do Sugar Gliders Live In The Wild?
Sugar gliders are found in the forests of Australia and New Guinea. In fact, they’re the only species endemic to both countries.
(‘Endemic’ means they are only found in a particular region.)
Sugar gliders are found all along the eastern side of Australia, from Tasmania up to northern Queensland, also in parts of the Northern Territory, several islands, and throughout New Guinea.
What Do Sugar Gliders Eat In The Wild?
Sugar gliders are omnivores, which means that their diet consists of plants and animals. They have a varied diet, which changes according to the season.
Known (and named) for their liking of sweet foods, sugar gliders eat gum, sap and nectar from trees and plants. In the summer, insects form the main part of their diet.
Sugar gliders are opportunistic feeders, and will also eat lizards and small birds. Their predation of the endangered swift parrot’s nestlings is a threat to the bird’s survival.
Sugar gliders are usually social animals, living in small colonies or family groups, which can number up to seven adults and their young.
The group’s territory can cover up to 2.5 acres, and is scent marked by the dominant males of the group, of which there are usually two.
Sugar gliders use a wide range of squeaks, hisses and barks – as well as scent markings – to communicate with each other.
Sugar gliders breed throughout the year. The gestation period is between 2 and 3 weeks, and they have litters of 1 to 3 young.
At birth, the ‘joeys’ (baby sugar gliders) are extremely undeveloped. The tiny, hairless joeys crawl through the mother’s fur and into her forward-opening pouch. Here they will stay, feeding on the mother’s milk, for another 2 months.
Male sugar gliders help to look after their young, who will leave the nest around 110 days after being born.
Do Sugar Gliders Have Any Predators?
The nocturnal sugar glider is a natural prey item for owls. Other animals which have been known to take sugar gliders are monitor lizards, quolls, and several bird and snake species
Feral cats will also prey on sugar gliders.
Sugar Gliders As Pets
Due to its endearing looks, the sugar glider is sought-after as a pet.
They are popular in the USA, and are permitted in all states other than California, Hawaii and Alaska.
In Australia, they can only be kept as pets in in Victoria, South Australia, and the Northern Territory
Are Sugar Gliders Endangered?
Sugar gliders are not endangered, and are ranked by the IUCN as being of ‘Least Concern’.
Sugar Glider Facts
- Sugar gliders are found in the wild in forests in Australia and New Guinea.
- Sugar gliders are marsupials (pouched mammals).
- The sugar glider’s scientific name is Petaurus breviceps, which means ‘short-headed rope dancer’.
- Sugar gliders are members of the Petauridae family, which consists of 10 other species of possum.
- Sugar gliders can glide up to 45 metres (150 feet).
- Sugar gliders can use their tails to carry leaves when they are making a nest.
- Sugar gliders are highly sociable, and live in colonies which often have two dominant males.
- Sugar gliders rarely fight with other members of their colony, but will fight other groups in territorial disputes.
- Sugar gliders eat nectar, sap and gum from plants, as well as various insects and small animals.
- Sugar gliders pose a threat to the endangered swift parrot, as they prey on its nestlings.
Sugar Glider Facts Conclusion
We hope that you have enjoyed finding our about this remarkable (and very cute) marsupial. You can learn about many more amazing Australian animals here.