What is a Sugar Glider?
Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are small arboreal nocturnal marsupials native to the rainforests of Australia and New Guinea, as well as some of the Indonesian island chains. Being arboreal, it is not uncommon for a sugar glider to never touch the ground in their natural habitat! Like other marsupials, the females carry their young (joeys) in a pouch.
Sugar gliders were first imported to the US back in 1994. They were not nearly as tame and were much darker than the domestically raised joeys that we see today. The most common color variation is steel gray to brownish with a black stripe down their back. Their underbelly is white. Being nocturnal, they have large protruding eyes and pointy fox-like ears to help them see and hear at night. They also have sensory whiskers on each side of their tiny pink nose. Gliders have a supple opposable toe on each hind leg that does not have a claw. The next two digits on the hind legs are partially fused and used to brush and clean fur. Gliders belong to a group of animals called phalangers, which in rough terms means “fingery one”. Gliders use their front paws just like a human uses hands. This is most noticeable when a glider eats. They have a tendency to hold onto food with their fingers while eating, similar to a way a human would hold onto a carrot.
Gliders also have a thin membrane of skin called a patagium that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. This membrane is stretched out when they jump and it allows them to glide from tree to tree. Their tails are furry and are not prehensile (they cannot use it to hang on a tree branch) and they use their tails as a rudder during gliding. Their gliding distances have been documented up to 150 feet! Adults weigh 4-6 ounces and measure about 8" from their nose to the tip of their tail. At least half of this length is tail!
Sugar gliders are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. They are social communal creatures and generally live in colonies from 7 to 15 gliders. Gliders have a lifespan of 5 to 7 yrs in the wild and 10 to 15 years in captivity.
Males are more noticeably distinguished from females by the diamond shape on their forehead that is white-fur filled. Females also have the diamond shape but it is generally thinner and black-fur filled.
It is estimated that there are currently over 1.1 million pet sugar gliders in the United States!