Sugar gliders are marsupials native to Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia that have been blessed with the ability to glide through the trees in their natural habitats. From a good height, they can take “flights” of more than 150 feet. In their native habitat they live in the trees as family groups, and this communal living appears to be critical to their survival. They have a range of vocal signals that include chirps, whirring, and clicks.
They are one of six species of the family Petauridae, known as flying phalangers or flying opossums. What enables these animals to soar is a flap of skin called a patagium that stretches like a sail between their wrists and their ankles. They are intriguing animals that can be kept as pets, but if you are thinking of taking one on, think very, very carefully.
Sugar gliders weigh anywhere from about 3 to 5.5 ounces (95 to 160 grams) depending on their gender and measure up to more than 8 inches (21 centimeters) 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 is really a scent gland to mark territory.
They are delicate animals that need the company of others of their kind (to the point that a lone pet may stop eating and die) and are very difficult to feed.
In captivity, sugar gliders need a variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs. About 50 percent of their diet should be insectivore/carnivore diet. Examples of the insects that can be fed include mealworms and crickets. All insects used as a food source should be on a high-quality insect diet plus calcium in order to transfer those nutrients on to your pet. Insufficient calcium can cause metabolic bone disease and can spell disaster for your pet.
Other sources of protein that can be used in your sugar glider’s diet would include monkey chow, pinkies (newborn mice), eggs and cat food. The remaining portion should be related to nectar and sap-type foods. The commercial diet for lories is a nectar-type feed and is good for sugar gliders. You can also feed honey, and there’s a commercially available substance called Glider Aid.
Chopped up fruit, leafy vegetables or fruit juice (if it has no preservatives) are good treats and should be less than 10 percent of the diet. Sprinkled with vitamins and bee pollen, these become even healthier treats.
As with any pet, water should be made available at all times and should be changed daily to prevent the overgrowth of any harmful bacteria.
The cage should measure at least 20 inches by 20 inches by 30 inches. Large, upright commercial birdcages often meet these specifications. Multiple nesting boxes need to be provided for the gliders to sleep in during the day, such as a wooden bird nest box, a small cardboard box, a cloth pouch with a slit in front that is then anchored to the side of the cage, or a plastic hamster house. The nest boxes should be cleaned out at least twice weekly and the cage should be cleaned out daily and thoroughly cleaned weekly with a disinfectant. This should include all furnishings.
Furnishings that are necessary for exercise and environmental enrichment are climbing branches that are non-toxic in origin, such as elm, oak and hickory or any type of wood rated as safe for birds. An elevated exercise wheel is a strongly recommended addition. It needs to be a solid wheel, not one made from wires, to ensure that their feet and tail remain safe from injury.
If you do think of getting one, make certain you know whether or not they are legal in your state. At the present time they are not legal in California, Georgia and Massachusetts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture must license dealers of sugar gliders since they are classified as an exotic pet.
One more warning: If you have gerbils, hamsters, rats, or even small snakes, keep them protected from your glider. They are very effective rodent killers.