Gliders from Down Under
Sugar Gliders, or Petaurus breviceps, are nocturnal, tree-dwelling marsupials that originated in Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. They were named because of their predilection for the sugary sap or gum of the eucalyptus tree and the presence of a “gliding” membrane or patagium. This furry membrane of skin extends from their wrists to their ankles and allows them to glide up to 50 meters amongst the trees. This structure is similar to the ones found on flying squirrels.
Sugar gliders have a gregarious nature, normally living in small family groups. Therefore, in captivity, it is strongly recommended that gliders be housed together for companionship purposes. If you do have a group situation, you should neuter your male to prevent unnecessary pregnancies. It has also been noted that when gliders are housed solitarily and do not receive enough attention from their owners they do not flourish and may even die.
Sugar Glider Facts
These small possums are about the size of large hamsters. They weigh anywhere from 95-160 grams depending on their gender and measure up to 21 centimeters in length. They are primarily gray in color with black stripes and have a lighter underside. Since they are nocturnal animals, they have large eyes for superior night vision. When sexual maturity is reached at about 1 year, the male glider will develop a large patch of glandular tissue on top of the head. It is easily mistaken for a large scab but is really a scent gland to mark territory. If the following recommendations are followed, sugar gliders have been known to live up to 14 years.
Some special considerations in keeping sugar gliders healthy involve both their nutritional and environmental requirements. It is important to realize that improper nutrition leads to the majority of deaths of sugar gliders. The following are several tried and true captive diets:
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 also now available. It is called Accu-Feed for Gliders and is manufactured by Brisky Pet Products. Call 1-800-294-1202 or go to www.brisky.com for further information on this new product. As with all new exotic animal diets, this diet should not be fed exclusively but in moderation and mixed with the “normal” diets listed above.
The cage should measure at least 24 inches by 24 inches by 36 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. Some simple ideas that have been used are wooden bird nest boxes, a small cardboard box, a cloth pouch with a slit in front that is then anchored to the side of the cage, and a plastic hamster house.
Bedding within the “nest” is optional but if used can be made of plain shredded paper or aspen wood shavings (note that cedar shavings can be toxic). Alternatively, a sock or cloth can also be placed within the nest. The nest boxes should be cleaned out at least twice weekly and the cage should be cleaned out daily of obvious messes and thoroughly cleaned weekly with a disinfectant. All furnishings should be included in this cleaning.
The cage needs to be out of direct sunlight because these animals are sensitive to warmer temperatures. Temperatures higher than 88 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to hyperthermia, which can be life threatening. Ideally, the sugar glider’s environment should be somewhere between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is conveniently about room temperature.
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 a solid wheel, not one made from wires, to ensure that their feet and tail remain safe from injury.
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. Their food can be offered from a flat-bottomed, non-tip dish that can be affixed to the wire of the cage. These dishes need to be cleaned out daily and ideally disinfected to prevent bacterial overgrowth given the unique dietary requirements of these animals.
Recommended Reading Material
Sugar Gliders: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual by Caroline MacPherson