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Understanding S​ugar Gliders

(The basics)

Classification:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Infraclass: Marsupialia Order: Diprotodontia Family: Petauridae Genus: Petaurus Species: P. breviceps

Binomial Name: Petaurus breviceps


Common English Names: Suggies, Sugar Glider, Lesser Gliding Possum, Arboreal Gliding Possum, and Sugar squirrel


A colony of Sugar Gliders possums is often referred to as a ‘Passel’ (NOTE* possum is not opossums) An adult male is referred to as a ‘Jack’ (sometimes casually referred to as a buck) An adult female is referred to as a ‘Jill’ (sometimes casually referred to as a doe) A baby is referred to as a ‘Joey’


Five subspecies are currently known to exist; P. b. breviceps, P. b. brevicep, P. b. longicaudatus, P. b. ariel, P. b. papuanus. In the wild, based solely on distribution, hybrids are unlikely to exist.

Being that Gliders are relatively new exotic pets, in the beginning of the domestication process, there was a fair bit of confusion when trying to identify the different species. Therefore, there is little doubt that hybrids now exist.


Conservation: Status in the wild: In their wild habitat, this species is viewed as common and its populations are considered stable and of least concern. Status in captivity: The highly social little Sugar Gliders are relatively new to the pet trade. They have only been around in captive breeding programs in North America since the 1990’s and are becoming increasingly popular as pets. Lately, quite a few breeders are taking great interest in them and are working with the more highly priced mutations. In North America, the demand for them as pets is high, and although they are becoming more common, they are still considered a moderately priced pet to own. People should never own just one Sugar Glider. They thrive on and need the companionship of other Gliders.


Origin / Natural distribution: They are native to the north and eastern parts of Australia, New Guinea, and many of the surrounding islands. Typically, they occupy forests and wooded areas where they live in the trees and hollows. They form small tight-knit groups and establish territories. Sugar Gliders are primarily nocturnal but in a few areas, they can be seen during mid-day out and about in the scrub searching for food. They typically choose to shelter in hollows in gum and eucalyptus trees where they build their nests out of leaves, twigs and grasses. In the wild, Sugar Gliders are mostly nocturnal but in some isolated pockets they are developing diurnal and crepuscular habits.


Appearance: In many ways, Sugar Gliders resemble Flying Squirrels but are a vastly different species. Like Flying Squirrels, they have a large gliding membrane called the patagium, and can glide up to 50 meters or more and it has been noted to be seen gliding to catch insects in flight. The Sugar Glider has plush thick, soft fur. The wild type is usually blue-gray with a black stripe running from its nose to midway down his back, and the underside are off-cream in colour. In captivity Sugar Gliders are available in numerous colours and colour patterns.

The average adult weight is between 80 -160grams with the females being a bit smaller than males. They are around 5 – 6 inches long from nose to tail or 11-12 inches long with tail.

In total, they have five toes, their hind feet have a large, opposable big toe that helps them grip branches. Also on the hind feet, the second and third toes, which are partially fused together, form a grooming comb. Except for the opposable toe all the other toes are equipped with short, sharp claws.


The Sugar Glider has somewhat of a prehensile tail, which is covered with long, bushy fur. They use their tails occasionally to carry twigs and leaves back to the nest. The tail is also used as a blanket and as a rudder that they use when gliding. The tail also helps the glider balance better when it is high up on thin branches in the under-story of the forest canopy.

The ears are relatively large, thin and hairless. They move independently of one another and are usually in motion listening for minute sounds made by insects and other disturbances in their environment.


Being that they are primarily nocturnal their large dark coloured eyes are slightly off centered which permits the animal to see better, especially at night. 


Sexual Dimorphism: Males, testes are descended and the scrotum is visible. Females have a pouch on the mid-section on the belly, which is visible. A small, bald diamond shaped scent gland, located on top of their head, easily identifies mature males.

Life Expectancy: It is estimated that a glider could live 9- 10 years in the wild but they are likely to be preyed upon on before they have a chance to reach that age. When housed properly and fed nutritious diets, captive-raised Sugar Gliders can live 12 or even 14 years, but their average life expectancy is generally closer to 9- 10 years.


Nutritional Requirements / Diet: Gliders are mainly insectivorous. They feed primarily on insects, larvae, spiders, and small vertebrates for the most of the year. During the wet season flower blossoms, sap from eucalyptus trees, acacia gum, and nectar become a large part of their regular diet.

(our feeding schedule for Sugar Gliders is posted further down the page. )  


Temperature Requirements: Sugar Gliders are from temperate areas. Although withstand moderate temperature fluctuations; they should be kept at temperatures at 21 degrees Celsius or higher. Babies are not able to regulate their own body temperature and a couple degrees warmer will add to their comfort. Like many small animals, whenever conditions are not met, Sugar Gliders can put themselves in a state of torpor.


Housing / Habitat Requirements: Sugar Gliders should always be housed in small groups or pairs, in the largest cage that you can comfortably fit in your home. (NEVER AN AQUARIUM). They are climbers and will utilize every inch of the cage. They are designed to move and they are very social.

If you plan to breed Sugar Gliders the cage bars should be equal to what you will find on a typical hamster or budgie cage. A normal size adult is usually large enough that he/she will not fit through cage wire spacing if the cage you choose is like those that are designed for cockatiels but young pre-weaned babies have no problem squeezing through the bars.

Gliders enjoy running on wheels and need a fair number of climbing branches, a hide hut or two is a must. They enjoy investigating new items so lots of safe toys that are changed and moved around regularly are very much appreciated. Environmental stimulation is very important to the health and well being of any animal. Be sure to make small changes such adding new toys and other interesting things for your Gliders to investigate. Make sure that what ever you give to your pet is safe!

If you choose to use bedding, hay, and aspen shavings or specially designed pet bedding made of re-cycled newspaper are all safe choices. While not always practical for many pet owners, some people use cage liners.

We keep our Gliders in cages that are 48" wide x 48" tall and 24" deep. Their cages are equipped with platforms, water bottles, several small food dishes, ropes, branches, exercise wheels, a couple of huts and lots of toys. We don’t use a liner or a substrate for bedding. I instead we prefer to rinse their cage bottoms daily. On the bottom, we put in loosely bunched newspaper that we also change daily.


Behaviour in Captivity: I can not stress enough how important it is for Sugar Gliders to be housed in pairs or small groups. They are highly social and depend on each other to thrive. Some breeders, hoping for a quick sale, will tell you they will adopt you as their companion. BUT THINK ABOUT IT. Are you there with your pet 24 hours a day, do you groom him or her throughout the day and night. Do you eat with it? They really have evolved to live in-groups and although they may live as a single pet for while, they will not thrive nor will they be happy. If you want a single pet, then you really should be considering other types of animals. There are a lot of species that do not like their own species, outside of the breeding season; these are the types of animals you should be considering.


Grooming: Sugar Gliders are very clean animals. They were even born equipped with their own grooming tool. Besides constantly cleaning themselves, they also groom other members of their group; this helps secure social bonds. Scent marking, no matter what we think of it, is an important part of Sugar Glider grooming. Sugar Gliders find it intoxicating while some humans find it offensive.


Keeping Gliders with other Pets: Not every species has a natural way to defend itself. When it comes to Sugar Gliders their best defense is flee and to take flight. If you talk to some people, you will hear how well Gliders get on with other pets. If you search the Internet, you will surely come by some cute pictures or videos with Sugar Gliders playing with personal pets. Obviously, if pictures are being taken there was someone in the room supervising the pets while they are interacting with one another.

Never assume that your Glider will be safe around other pets. In the wild, Sugar Gliders have been known to catch and eat small birds and rodents. Gliders are also considered prey animals. Feral cats, birds of prey, canines and other predators think of them as ‘snack food’. While fluffy might be trained not to bother your Pet Glider, can you be 100% sure that something won’t go wrong if the two animals were left together, unattended? My 2 dogs and cat are seniors. They barely get off the couch. Yet, I know that I would not ever leave my Gliders unsupervised with them or with any of my other animals.


Breeding:

Breeding age females are polyestrous and go into heat several times a year. Estrus is typically a 29-day cycle and they can reproduce at 8-12 months old. They are capable of reproducing until they are over 10 years old. Being a marsupial they are capable of embryonic diapause.

Males can breed throughout the year and are typically ready to breed between 12-14 months of age. In captivity, they can start breeding as young as four to six months, but at such a young age they may not be mature enough to care for their offspring.

Sugar gliders are polygamous. When kept in a colony, usually one or two older dominant males father the young. They do most of the territorial maintenance and scent marking. Both sexes take turns caring for their babies, which are called Joeys. Copulation usually occurs in the evening and is often accompanied by grumping chirps that I can only describe as complaining. Females have 2 uteruses and the males can inseminate one or both female’s uteri, because he has a bifurcated (two-pronged) penis.

Breeding season normally begins around June through late October but captive raised gliders can breed all year. Females can produce 3-4 litters with 1-2 (rarely 3) Joeys a year. Ideally in the wild, they may only have 1 or 2 litters a year and can breed until the are close to ten years of age. If you do plan on breeding, we suggest that you only permit your glider to produce 1 or 2 litters a year as not to burn her out.

Unless embryonic diapause occurs, after 16 days’ gestation (after mating) the fetuses are born and instinctively climb to the mother’s pouch where they remain, nursing for 60 to 70 days.

Joeys are dependent on the parents and other group members for quite a while. Typically, they are weaned at 8 weeks (after it leaves the pouch) but should not be considered fully independent for another 4-6 weeks after they have been weaned.


Colour Mutations: In captivity, there are many colour varieties available. The list of new colour mutations is growing every few months. Leucistic, Mosaic, Blonde, Platinum, are just a few of the most common colours being worked with, some of which we own ourselves. Some of the colour mutations are totally established while others are still in the working/ study phase. Unfortunately, like other genetic mutations, colour genes can play havoc on the health and reproductive ability of an animal. Sometimes they even shorten life expectancy and can cause other health problems such as skin disorders, blindness, etc. If colour is the deciding factor for you, my suggestion when deciding on what animal to purchase, to give lots of consideration and have a few discussions with a few different breeders and other people that are familiar with genetics.


Ailments and Veterinary Requirements: Sugar Gliders can become calcium deficient and should be supplemented with foods rich in calcium. We provide ours with extra calcium and vitamins every other day. All animals can benefit from annual visits to a qualified Veterinarian. Be sure that your vet is knowledgeable about Sugar Gliders.


Costs to consider: The costs to set up a suitable habitat can vary but you can expect to pay about $300.00 or more for a reasonably decent setup (including the cage, a few toys, wheels, sleeping dens etc.). A pair of Sugar Gliders will likely cost around $450.00 and up, depending on colour, sexes, etc.


Where to purchase: Ideally all pets should be purchased from a "Specialist Breeders". If you are planning to breed Gliders, buying your breeding stock from an experienced breeder will likely be worth the investment. They are usually proud of their own animals and can be a great source of information. Not all Pet Stores are bad, nor are all the people who work in them, mean people. Some very knowledgeable people work in them. Unfortunately, they are paid to sell and they are a real business. You’ll need to decide for yourself if you feel comfortable buying pets from them.

Wherever you choose to purchase your pet from if you have done all your research first and you are comfortable with the people that you are dealing with and feel that a Glider is right for you; then you will you be in a better position to make an educated decision and know what you are committing yourself to.


Having to ‘re-home’ your pet: For some people having to make the decision to give up a pet may be one of the hardest things they will ever have to do. It can be very emotional and stressful for the caregiver and the pet. If you find yourself in an emergency and need to re-home your pet, try contacting the breeder to see if they can help. We believe that most ethical breeders will do their best to help. Often, in the case of a real emergency, most conscientious breeders will offer to take back the animal. This is a good habit that responsible breeders get into, not only does it prevent animals from ending up in shelters or sanctuaries it also makes people think twice before abandoning them in the wild.


People contact us regularly to see if we can help them sell their pet. PLEASE NOTE …We will not help you sell your pet! However, if you ever find yourself in a position whereby you can no longer adequately care for your Sugar Glider or you feel that your pet Glider needs to be in a home with someone more experienced, you are free to call us. We do realize that every situation is different but we will do our best to suggest a few options for you to consider before you decide to re-home your pet. Occasionally, if we have the space and time, we will take in Gliders that are in need new homes. Just be aware that if we do commit to taking in your pet, we will keep them for if it takes to find them a suitable home. We will not keep them because we need to know the lineage and history on all our animals in our breeding program. We do have a special needs page on our site for people looking to adopt/purchase animals in need of rehoming. If we can not personally accommodate another animal in our own home, then we may be able to recommend someone who can.


Clubs, Associations and Breeder links: If you are an experienced specialist breeder or a legitimate specialty club and would like to add a reciprocal link to our site, please feel free to email us. Please note that we will not provide links to Rescue Organizations that are not open to public, unless we have the opportunity and time to personally inspect the "Rescue" organizations, first. 

What we feed to our Sugar Gliders

Water: -Water must be available at all times. We use a bowl and also a water bottle for every cage.


Food: -We always leave a mixture of equal parts premium quality ‘kitten’, Ferret (or mink) food and Glider pellets, in their cage. They are never without this kibble mix. Our Gliders do not over indulge on kibble so, we do not worry that they will become too heavy from the kibble.

In the evening (6-8:pm) we feed washed, fresh leafy greens and small quantities of fresh fruit and berries. (Sliced, Oranges, tangerines, clementines are given 3 times a week and we leave the skin on)


Calcium: -Twice per week we sprinkle a 2:1 ratio, calcium on the Oranges. Captive Gliders need to be supplemented with additional Calcium.


Every night, just before we go to bed, we feed "Glider-cubes" to all of our gliders. We remove any left over in the morning.

Excluding the dry kibble, all of the other food items we offer are fresh/frozen human grade. We wash everything. We do not feed insects. Meat is always cooked. We do not feed pasteurized foods, processed foods, salt, or spices/seasonings. All food is served at room temperature except for the "Glider Cubes". We monitor their food intake. Making sure to make necessary adjustments, especially if we notice that any of Gliders start to look a bit paunchy.


How we prepare our Glider-cubes

Please note that we have a couple of birds and other animals that we feed this to. Even our dogs like them as a treat! Although it keeps frozen for quite a few weeks, single pet owners may want to adjust.


Fresh Fruit Smoothie - We wash all fruit then puree using a food processor…

1 large papaya (no skin and no seeds and not cooked and we wait until the papaya starts to turn colour, that is when it is fully sweet and ripe)

 Approximately ¾ to a cup of melon (peeled and seed free)

 1-2 kiwis (skinned)

 1 banana (peeled and a little over ripe)

 2-3 strawberries

 6 -10 blueberries

 ½ cup of unpasteurised yogurt


Raw Vegetables - We coarsely grind using a food processor

 1 medium sweet potato, (peeled)

 ½ a cup of frozen peas and carrots mix

 ½ cup frozen cauliflower and broccoli mix


Meat (Animal Protein) - We steam/cook all meat and eggs

 2lbs, ground chicken or turkey, chicken hearts

 2-4 eggs.

Let meat mixture cool and drain off any liquid and fat and coarsely grind (finely dice). We use a food processor.

In a large bowl, we gently blend together approximately, 2 cups of the fruit puree, 2 cups of the ground vegetables and 2 cups of ground meat. We do not stir because we want to keep it a bit interesting for them.

We pour/spread the mixture into ice cube trays and place them into the freezer to flash freeze them.

Once frozen we put the cubes in a sealed container in the freezer. They can usually be kept for approximately 90 days.


Treats

Once a week they each get each of the following. We feed these as treats and only at bonding time. They are offered by hand or fed off a teaspoon. We change it up to give them variety. All are probably not necessary but it is a way to bribe them into loving us

1 very small cooked shrimp (not peeled)

½ to 1 shelled raw nut (Brazil nut, Pecan, Walnut, Hazelnut, Almond or Macadamia)

½ to ¾ teaspoon of light maple syrup mixed ½ and ½ with water and fed on a teaspoon

½ to ¾ teaspoon of unpasteurised yogurt - fed on a teaspoon

2-3 fresh basil leaves, (or fresh flower blossoms when available)

A small piece of sugar cane


Honey crumbs (we make as cake crumbles)

We use rice and cassava flour, rolled oats, chopped pecans, a few eggs, and lightly sweeten it with honey and fruit juice. We just mix it together until it is a bit like a cookie dough and bake it on a cookie sheet until crunchy. Then we break it into crumbles. It can be stored in freezer for up to 2 months)