Sugar Gliders

“Morgana Mo” by H. Schofield (CC BY 2.0)

Petaurus breviceps  

Sugar gliders are a very popular pet in many homes across the globe. The cute face and quirky personality makes them interesting and fun pets for those who have the time and patience for these fascinating critters. They do require a lot of attention and can be quite vocal about this. Remember to always get them in pairs for lonliness is a terrible burden to bear.

Anatomy

These small adorable creatures are actually part of the marsupial family which means that although they may resemble a flying squirrel, they are not rodents. As marsupials, the females have a pouch which will carry and protect their joeys (babies) until they are ready to venture out into the world. The females also have two uteruses and vaginas allowing them to have 1-2 joeys at a time. The pouch can be found in the belly button region and I would not recommend trying to poke it. The female also has four nipples for nursing her young within this pouch. They become sexually mature around eight months.

“Sugar Glider Babies” by Robert Nelson (CC BY2.0)

The male sugar gliders also have some unique features such as the forked penis and a testicle sac that becomes visible when it matures. The testicles are attached to the body via a chord that does not contain nerve endings making it virtually painless to neuter the animals. They also have a scent gland atop their head and a smaller one on their chest and when the male is not neutered it will typically look like a bald spot due to the oils that are excreted for marking territory and marking the other gliders in their social group. Marking the other gliders allows the dominant male to recognize his group members by scent. The male gliders will also have a cloaca, a common chamber into which the rectum, bladder, and reproductive system empty, and then excreted through a vent opening found at the base of the tail. The males become sexually mature around a year and can be neutered at five to six months.


“Petaurus breviceps male ” by
 
Dawson at English Wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)

Both male and female gliders will have large eyes that protrude from the sides of their head due to their nocturnal nature. This enables them to have a large field of vision which helps them detect predators and navigate. The eyes appear to be black but are simply a very dark brown. Some gliders will have a thin blue iris. It is believed that gliders only see greys and red as suggested by the amount of cones and rods that have been identified in their eyes. It has also been observed that gliders excrete a white, milky substance from their eyes that is used for grooming.

These marsupials also have a very sensitive nose with cute wiskers. Gliders’ ears are disproportionate to the size of their heads however, the ears are able to move independently which makes them excellent listeners. Males tend to weigh 100-160g whereas females tend to be smaller and weigh in at 80-130g. Standard fur colors are grey with a black dorsal stripe and white underbelly. Female dorsal stripes are typically thinnner than the males. Captive and domesticated gliders come in a variety of colors including albino.

“White Sugar Glider” by Dave Hogg (CC BY 2.0)

A cool thing about gliders is that they have four hands instead of feet. These are used for grabbing and holding onto food stuffs and for climbing and gliding. Each of these hands have an opposable thumb and each finger have claws to help with latching onto things, the lower hands have fingers that are fused together for grooming and a padded thumb for holding onto branches or cage walls. It is absolutely adorable when they grab for treats that are being handed to them.

“Sugar Glider” by George Grinsted (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Watching gliders eat is really fun because of how they hold their food and take bites of fruit or treats. They have two small cute front teeth and two much longer lower teeth which are used for scooping fruit or sap. They can often be seen turning the food in their small hands to access the various sides of the food pieces. Luckily their teeth do not continue to grow so they will not chew nor be destructive. They use their long tongues for drinking water and juices, as well as for grooming. It is very cute when they lick pieces of their food to taste them before grabbing and eating it.

“Patagium” by Phil and Lisa (CC 2.0)

They are called gliders because they have what is called a patagium, which is the extra skin between their front and back arms that extend making them look like cute squares. They are not actually wings but they do allow the suggies to glide from one branch to another. When the glider is in this positon it is called an airfoil. The gliders’ tail is about haf the length of their bodies and is primarily used as a steering mecanism when they glide. Sometimes they will use their tails to carry small twigs but they are unable to hang from a branch using their tail. They use their hands to climb and hang from the cage and or branches.

Behavior  

Sugar gliders are very social creatures. In the wild they typically live in groups of 6-10 gliders. They are originally from Australia and New Guinea but can now be found in homes across the globe. When adopting a glider, it is always important to get them in pairs, a lone glider that is not given LOTS of attention will become extremely stressed out. If they are the same gender then it is ok to house them together. If there is a male and a female it is important that you neuter the male before housing them together. Breeding gliders requires a license. Always have more females than males and monitor dominant and aggressive behaviors between individuals.

Social Grooming: gliders will often groom each other by licking and running their hands through one another’s fur. As discussed in the Anatomy section, the gliders hands have extra padding on the thumbs to aid in this. Not only does the practice keep the colony clean but is also a bonding activity for its members.

Gliders are very playful creatures and pets and with their curious nature they can often find themselves in trouble if not properly supervised in a glider proofed room. In the wild they rely on their instincts for survival but as pets it is the owners responsibility to ensure their safety. Gliders can be seen exploring, climbing, jumping, and gliding during the night when they are typically active. They enjoy time out of the cage as well and will climb on EVERYTHING and chew cords if they are not watched. If you have the ability to install perches in your home for them to play on while out of the cage make sure that they have a safe landing space for when they glide down.

Handling pet gliders is a really important aspect of the bonding process and should be done daily. The bonding process establishes trust and love between owner and pet. Gliders that are not frequently handled do become nippy, as discusssed previously they do have long sharp teeth that can make you bleed. However, these teeth are small and it does not hurt that bad. Try not to flinch or pull away when the glider does bite, fast movements may frighten them. Handling the gliders also socializes the creatures and ensures that they are recieving enough attention. Once the gliders have bonded with you, it is a lot of fun to play with them and have them glide to you.

“Sugar gliders gliding” by reptile maniac (CC BY 2.0)

Gliders prefer to climb and jump instead of crawling on the ground where they would be easy targets for predators. They like to be up high and will often climb up to your shoulder or onto your head, be careful because they may try to glide from your head to another location. They are able to glide up to 50 meters in the wild in search of food. They are able to climb up a variety object, for example, my suggie climbed up a lamp post and also a tapestry in my room.

Gliders are known to love pouches. They will curl up in your pocket and snooze if you let them. Pouches are ideal for sleeping as it allows them to cuddle together in a safe space. Cage pouches are available online and in many pet stores. Travel pouches are ideal to assist in bonding and taking your gliders on the go. Like cage pouches they are available commercially and it keeps them cozy and warm, I usually put a small blanket into the travel pouch for them to curl up in as well. Do not take them outside in bad weather becuase they may become ill.

Noises

Crabbing: this noise typically indicates that the glider is frightened or agitated. Sometimes they will crab as a warning signal or a cry for attention. It can be compared to locusts or screeching and each glider sounds different, having its own variation in pitch.

“Sugar Glider Crabbing” by Tia (CC BY 2.0)

Barking: the bark sounds like a puppy yipping. Like the crabbing, the pitch and tone are unique to each glider. They will bark when they want attention, are excited, bored, annoyed, or are calling to their owner or colony members. It is also used as a warning call to other gliders in the colony to signl that there is a predator nearby. It may also occur at night if something strange such as a light or sound occur that startle the glider.

“Sugar Glider Barking” by Sirens of the Sea (CC BY 2.0)

Crying: is similar to whining. It is typically only made by joeys or a newer glider that misses its colony. Should the glider do this, try to give them attention and love to cheer them up.

Chattering/Chirping: is a noise that sounds like a mix between a chirp, teeth chattering, and low pitched squeaks. It is used to communicate with other gliders and with their owners.

Purring: sounds similar to a small drumbeat or cat’s purr. It means that the glider is happy but it is very faint and can only be heard when extremely close to it.

Hissing: It sounds like a sneeze but it is actually the sound that is made when the glider is grooming itself. The glider will spit into its hands which produces the sound and then run them through its fur or a colony member’s fur to clean them. The hissing sound can also be heard when they are newly introduced to one another and when the gliders wrestle together.

Sneezing: This is very similar to the hissing but sounds much more like an actual sneeze that a cat would make. Sneezing can occur due to an upper respiratory infection, especially if the glider has been in cold temperatures. The glider should be taken to your exotic veterinarian for treatment.

Singing: Typically only done by female gliders to their joeys.

“Sugar Glider Noises” by Elissa Brianne (CC by 2.0)

The Cage

The cage should be large enough for the gliders to climb and jump around. Typically a couple of platforms and hanging toys are good to have in there as well. The cage can be lined with shredded paper or pine bedding. Spot cleaning the cage daily is important to ensure that the gliders do no become ill. Cage covers or clean blankets can be used to keep the enclosure dark while they sleep during the day.

Toys should be cleaned and varied weekly to mentally stimulate the gliders. Hanging scavenger toys are a fun way to treat your gliders and to encourage their curiosity. A wheel is a nice addition for exercise. Gliders will also need a couple of pouches for sleeping in. Pouches, tents, and hammocks as well as cage toys can be purchased commercially and online.

The cage should also have multiple food dishes that are sturdy so that they do not tip over if the gliders leap away from them after grabbbing a bite to eat. A sturdy water dish or a water bottle that attaches to the side of the cage are also necesary. Filtered water should be used.

The gliders should be kept in temperatures between 75° F-80° F but can tolerate 65° F-90° F. I also like to keep small blankets in the cage pouches for them to snuggle up in. I often use old socks that have gotten holes in them because my gliders like to curl up in those and its really cute.

Feeding

“Enjoying a meal” by Alex Archambault (CC BY 2.0)

Sugar gliders are nocturnal and will need fresh food when they first wake up, so I typically feed mine around 9pm. They are omnivores and will eat a variety of items. In the wild the often choose to consume tree sap from acacia trees and the gum of eucalyptus plants. Nectar and pollen from flowers as well as insects are regularly consumed. Wild sugar gliders rarely eat fruit whereas pet gliders are often overfed fruits and underfed nectar and protein sources. The ideal sugar glider diet is varied and cannot be narrowed down to only two or three items.

Your glider’s diet shoud consist of 25% protein such as cooked eggs, cooked lean meat, crickets, mealworms, and pelleted diets that are available online and in most pet stores. Another 25% should be grean leafy vegetables with a small amount of fruit such as berries, apples, and carrots. The other 50% of their diet should be a pelleted nectar source. Vitamin and mineral powder supplements containing calcium are also required.

Sugar gliders do have a sweet tooth so they love getting treats. Honey sticks made for gliders are a great way to bond with the glider while letting them enjoy a tasty snack. Treats should not be fed to gliders in large quantities. Popular treats for gliders include almonds, peanuts, plain cheerios, and yogurt drops. Placing these items into scavenger toys or offering them by hand to your gliders is a great way to bond and get them to enjoy coming up to you.

Health

Make sure to find an exotic pet veterinarian that can do regular checkups for your gliders. Gliders are awesome pets and it is our job to keep them happy and healthy. Occasionally gliders will get bacterial or parasitic infections that will require medication, traumatic injuries that need surgery, or sadly they have organ failure or cancer. More common health problems include obesity, malnutrition, metabolic bone disease, dental problems, and stress related diseases.

“Boom! It is a Sugar Glider” by Joe McKenna (CC BY 2.0)

Obesity in gliders is due to a lack of space and the ability for the glider to exercise. Gliders that eat excess amounts of proteins, fats, and treats will often become obese and exhibit behaviors such as lethargy, heart disease, and arthritis. Thankfully this is easily reversed by increasing the glider’s daily amount of exercise, decreasing the amount of proteins being served, and decreasing the portion sizes while maintaining a balanced diet.

The signs of malnourishment in gliders are weakness, weight loss, dehydration and an inability to stand or climb. This can lead to more serious problems such as broken bones, bruising, and pale gums. If this happens to your glider, you should seek help from your veterinarian.

Metabolic bone disease, also called nutritional osteodystrophy, is a type of malnutrition due to low levels of calcium in the blood. This can lead to the glider having seizures. The treatment for this is a long term administration of calcium with supportive care.

Always check with your veterinarian if you have health related questions about your pets. Sugar gliders make great pets if you know how to treat them. Glide on!!!

“Parsnipkitty” by H. Schofield (CC BY 2.0)

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