They don’t quite fly. They glide. Sometimes more than 50 yards at a time.
About the size of large hamsters, sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are nocturnal, tree-dwelling marsupials that originate in Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. The name comes from their predilection for the sugary sap or gum of the eucalyptus tree.
And they glide. Their flying mechanism is a furry membrane of skin that extends from their wrists to their ankles and allows them to swoop along amongst the trees, much the way flying squirrels do.
Sugar gliders socialize among themselves, usually living in small family groups. So, if you’re considering one for a pet, consider more than one. They get lonely on their own – so lonely, in fact, that it can kill them. One warning, however: Neuter the male in your group – or you’ll have a bigger family than you’d planned on.
Sugar Glider Facts
Sugar gliders weigh anywhere from 3.3 ounces (93 grams) to 5.5 ounces (160 grams) depending on their gender and measure up to 8.5 inches long. They are primarily gray with black stripes, and a lighter underside. Since they are nocturnal animals, they have large eyes for superior night vision. When sexual maturity is reached at about one year, the male glider develops a large patch of glandular tissue on top of the head that is often mistaken for a large scab, but it is really a scent gland to mark territory.
Cages should measure at least 20 inches by 20 inches by 30 inches; large, upright commercial birdcages often work well.
You’ll also need nesting boxes for the gliders to sleep in during the day. You can use wooden bird nest boxes, small cardboard boxes, plastic hamster houses or cloth pouches slit in front and anchored to the side of a cage.
Bedding is optional; it can be made of plain shredded paper or aspen wood shavings (note that cedar shavings can be toxic). Otherwise, place a sock or cloth in the nest.
Clean the nest boxes at least twice a week; clean out the cage daily and disinfect it weekly. All furnishings should be included in this cleaning.
Furnishings for exercise include non-toxic climbing branches of elm, oak or hickory, or any type of wood rated as safe for birds. Don’t forget an elevated exercise wheel; choose a solid one that’s not made of wires to ensure that the animals’ feet and tails will be safe while they play.
Gliders are sensitive to warm temperatures, so put the cage someplace out of direct sunlight. The ideal temperature for sugar gliders should be somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is conveniently close to room temperature. Note that temperatures over 88 degrees can lead to hyperthermia, which can be life threatening.
Cared for properly, these gray and black striped creatures have long lives: up to 14 years in some cases. Since diet is the main consideration in keeping them healthy, here are some tried and true menus:
Leadbeater’s Mixture Diet
50% Leadbeater’s Mixture (see recipe below)
50% Insectivore/Carnivore Diets (Suppliers are: Reliable Protein Products (760-321-7533), Mazuri brand (314-768-4592) and Zupreem (800-345-4767).
Blend well and refrigerate until needed.
Chicago Zoological Park Diet
Taronga Zoo Diet
Sugar glider pellets are now available. Accu-Feed for Gliders is manufactured by Brisky Pet Products (www.brisky.com). As with all new exotic animal diets, use the pellets in moderation and mix them with the diets listed above.
Water can be offered from a sipper-type bottle, a non-tip dish or a clip-on bird dish placed in an elevated part of the cage. Put food in a flat-bottomed, non-tip dish affixed to the wire of the cage. Clean the dishes daily and disinfect them to prevent bacterial overgrowth.