Sugar Gliders In The Wild
The sugar glider is a nocturnal gliding possum belonging to the marsupial class. The origin of its name comes from their love for sugary foods such as sap and nectar and their ability to glide.
Appearance & Anatomy
Sugar gliders are often compared to flying squirrels, however, they are more closely related to other marsupials. As nocturnal animals, they see well in the dark with their big black eyes. Their eyes are set far apart to allow them to determine where to land when gliding. Sugar gliders are covered with soft grey fur and white underbellies, with black stripes on their heads.
Male sugar gliders are larger than females and have four scent glands, while females only have 2. Males have a scent gland on their forehead and chest, as well as two paracloacal scent glands used for marking territory. Females also have a paracloacal scent gland and a scent gland in the pouch.
The sugar glider has a unique gliding membrane, scientifically known as the patagium. This gland extends from their forelegs to their hind legs on both sides of their body, allowing them to glide upwards of 150 feet in the wild. Gliding is an effective way for these small animals to hunt food and ward off predators.
The lifespan of a glider in the wild is approximately 3-9 years.
Sugar gliders are native to tropical and cool-temperate forests in Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. They sleep in canopies with large numbers of stems and nest in tree hollows with up to 10 other gliders. In addition to forests, they’ve also been found in plantations and rural gardens. Sugar gliders sleep huddled together to keep warm when temperatures are cool. As nocturnal animals, they are active at night and sleep during the day.
The age of sexual maturity in sugar gliders varies slightly between the males and females. Males reach maturity at 4 to 12 months of age, while females require from 8 to 12 months. In the wild, sugar gliders breed once or twice a year depending on the climate and habitat conditions. The gestation period is 15 to 17 days, after which the joey will crawl into a mother's pouch for further development. They are born very undeveloped and furless, with only the sense of smell being developed. The mother has a scent gland in her pouch to attract the sightless joeys from the uterus. Joeys are completely contained in the pouch for 60 days after birth in order for their mothers to provide them with the necessary nourishment during the remainder of their development. Their eyes open for the first time around 80 days after birth, and joeys will leave the nest approximately 110 days after birth.
Diet and Nutrition
Sugar glider forage for food in the forest. They eat a wide variety of foods, depending on availability throughout the different seasons. Sugar gliders obtain a large portion of their water intake through drinking rainwater, with the remainder obtained through water retained in food. During the summer, they eat mostly insects, however, during the winter, insects are scarce and their diet mainly consists of eucalyptus sap, acacia gum, honeydew or lerp.
Sugar gliders do not spend a lot of time foraging for insects, as it consumes a lot of their energy. They instead wait for insects to fly into their habitat or stop and feed on different flowers. They can also be carnivores and pray on small birds and lizards.
They eat many other foods when available, such as nectar, acacia seeds, bird eggs, pollen, fungi and native fruits. Pollen is known to make up a large part of a sugar glider’s diet.
Sugar gliders are extremely social animals, living in family groups or colonies consisting of up to seven adults, plus any joeys. Up to four age classes may exist within each group, although some sugar gliders are solitary, and chose not to belong to any colony. Sugar gliders enjoy social grooming, which not only assists with hygiene, but also with bonding the colony and establishing group identity.
Within social communities, there are two co-dominant males who share food, nests, mates, and responsibility for scent marking of community members and territories. Territory and members of the group are marked with saliva and a scent produced by separate glands on the forehead and chest of male gliders. Rank is established through scent marking; and fighting does not occur within groups, but does occur when communities come into contact with each other. Within the colony, no fighting typically takes place beyond threatening behavior. Each colony defends a territory of approximately 2.5 acres.
Sugar gliders are one of the few species where males contribute to the care of their offspring. Joeys are more likely to survive with the care of both parents as this allows one adult to huddle with the young and prevent hypothermia, while the other parent is out foraging.
Communication in sugar gliders occurs through vocalizations, visual signals and chemical odors. Chemical odors are a large part of communication in sugar gliders, similar to many other nocturnal animals. Odors may be used to mark territory, convey health status of an individual, and mark rank of community members. Gliders produce a number of vocalizations including barking and hissing.