Background and Description
The Sugar Glider (or Petauridae breviceps (which apparently means "short headed rope dancer")) is a native to Australia, Tasmania, Papua-New Guinea and Indonesia. In the wild they dwell in communal nests consisting of a few females, and fewer males, one of whom is dominant. Their name was given to them by the bushmen of Australia who noticed their predeliction for sweet things and their ability to gracefully sail between trees. They have this talent thanks to the patagium, a semi-elastic membrane that is "attached" at the wrists and ankles and spreads for gliding. While they do resemble flying squirrels they are much smaller (100 to 160 g and about 12 inches including the tail which is half their length) and are genetically closer to the opossum. Like the opossum, sugar gliders are nocturnal marsupials. They can reproduce at around 7-9 months of age and their gestation period is a mere 16 days, after which the baby crawls into the mum's pouch and continues its growth. It spends 8 weeks suckling in the pouch and then are ready to be weaned. Female sugar gliders give birth generally to one or two offspring at a time.
Sugar Gliders were first imported to America as pets in 1994. Since then, they have been bred here as pets, allowing for a much gentler glider. Aside from manners, the main difference between wild and domesticated Sugar Gliders is the colour of their coat. Wild Sugar Gliders have a much darker coat that they acquire from eating the sap of the acacia tree. Pet gliders have a gray coat typically. Another identifying mark is a black "racing stripe" that runs from the top of the head down the tail. The tail is another interesting aspect: it is semi-prehensile. It cannot hang from it or support its weight with it like an opposum or monkey, but it can carry light stuff like nest materials, leaves, etc. They have huge black eyes like most nocturnal creatures that enable them to see in the dark.
Sugar Gliders as Pets
When buying a sugar glider one should only deal with a reputable breeder. These are sometimes difficult to find as they were only imported in 1994. However, your efforts will not go unrewarded. A sugar glider that has been properly and regularly handled from birth will be much more sociable and friendly. If they are crabbing (a threatening vocalization) or biting after they've been weaned it is not a good sign, they should be properly socialized
. It's a good idea to try to visit the cage at night, because, being nocturnal, this will be when they are most active and their personality
is the most evident. A good breeder will understand this and might let you spend the evening in the cage. You may also want to consider whether you want a male or a female, males tend to be more vocal and smelly, females are a bit more docile. The sexes are easily distinguished: the male has a bald spot on its head that is the olfactory
organ and a scrotum nub on its belly. The female has a pouch
. But before you rush off to buy one, you should prepare their cage and your house for their reception. It is recommended that they live in at the very least a 1 meter x 1 meter
cage, though a room-sized
cage would be ideal, especially if more than one sugar glider is coming home. The point of this is that they need room to glide within their cage. The cage walls must have holes no bigger than 1 cm
square and should be coated with PVC to prevent corrosion, some sort of rigid mesh would be ideal. It is good to fill the cage with branches for climbing and gliding purposes. It is imperative that they have a nest pouch, these are sold commercially or can be made out of a plastic ice cream container. These are filled with paper towels or some such shreddable, non-toxic material. This is where the glider will spend most of its days.
Okay, you are now the proud owner of a sugar glider. Look at him/her, isn't he/she cute? Now begins the bonding. This is the time in your sugar gliders life when you must be close to it physically for an amount of time each day (measured in hours). Being nocturnal, your sugar glider will be either sleeping or groggy during the daylight hours. Because of this, there are available things called "bonding pouches". These are little soft pockets that can be pinned inside your clothing and in which your glider will sleep. This accomplishes a sense of closeness with your glider, letting it feel your body heat up close while it sleeps. Since they are so small, you can easily put them in the pouch and go to the mall or to work (assuming you have a fairly relaxed working environment) and they will typically stay in their pouches. Also because they are small, you must be aware of their presence and location on your person at all times. Check your back pockets before you sit down, hug perhaps a little less tightly than you might normally. They will explore your pockets to no end, be sure where they are. Carelessness in this area could result in trauma or death for your glider. The bonding period doesn't really ever end, it is merely called this because it is the time during which your glider is getting comfortable with you.
With proper care, sugar gliders can live as long as the average dog and be just as friendly. It is a commitment, however, one you'll want to give considerable thought to, preferably when you are out of the range of it's adorable presence. Also look on the internet or at the library for more information, this is merely a starting point.
Origin: Australia, Tasmania, Papua-New Guinea, Indonesia
Scientific Name: Petauridae breviceps
Life Span: 9 years in the wild, 10 in captivity
Health Concerns: Mental illness (depression), self-mutilation, thyroid malfunction,
diabetes, obesity, pneumonia, intestinal blOckage
Temperature Range: 65 to 85 Degrees F
Diet in Captivity: Fruits, Vegetables, crickets, animal protein
http://www.isga.org International Sugar Glider Association
2003 Annual Critters USA Guide to Buying and Caring for Exotic Mammals Magazine