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Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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Sugar Glider


Photo: Courtesy of Harold & Paula Ables

Sugar Glider: Petaurus breviceps

  • Other common names  include the Sugar Squirrel, Lesser Flying Squirrel, Short-headed or Lesser Flying Phalanger, and Lesser Glider.
  • Sugar Gliders are marsupials.

Characteristics:

  • The sugar glider is a fairly small  possum (shorter in body length than the average black rat) with a gliding membrane down the side of its  body. It is light grey with a dark stripe down the middle of its forehead and along its back. There are also black stripes along the limbs. The tail is well furred and of a more or less uniform thickness, often with a white tip. As with all gliders, the tail is not prehensile - it cannot curl it. Tails are often discarded by owls. (Script: Courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency)
     

Adults

  • Blue-grey to brown-grey on dorsal surface, with a dark mid-dorsal stripe from between eyes to mid-back. Cream to Pale-grey underside.
  • Tail grey to brown and sometimes tipped with white or black.
  • Length: head and body 16-21cm, tail 16.5-21 cm.
  • Weight: male 140g, female 120g.

Juveniles

  • Blue-grey to brown-grey on dorsal surface, with a dark mid-dorsal stripe from between eyes to mid-back. Cream to Pale-grey underside.
  • Their tail tip is white when young and turns grey when the fur gets longer.
  • Reach Sexual Maturity at 8 to 16 months of age.

Gliding:

  • Sugar gliders often exploit patchy food resources by gliding, as this proves efficient, and also possibly a way to help them avoid predators.
  • The gliding membrane is called a patagium.
  • They do not use their tails for holding onto branches. They use it like a rudder for flying.
  • When leaping from a tree, it spreads out its membranes that extend from the fifth finger to the first toe of the foot on each side of the body, steering and maintaining its stability by varying the curvature of the left or right membrane.
  • It brings its hind legs in towards its body when about 3m from a target tree, and with an upward swoop, it lands with its four feet in contact with the bark.
  • They can glide up to fifty metres in length.

Viewing Opportunities:

  • Honey mixtures are placed on viewing platforms at Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge each evening for them to feed.
  • Viewings can be expected every night in normal weather conditions.

Habitat and Distribution:

  • There are 7 recognised subspecies of sugar gliders, 4 of them in New Guinea.
  • They prefer patchy, open forest were it has enough space to glide from tree to tree.
  • Density is often highest in open forest habitats in south-eastern Australia where access to acacias is readily available.
  • They also often thrive in strips and patches of forest remaining on cleared agricultural land and have therefore not suffered as much as some other possums.
  • It is locally common, with up to at least 10 per hectare, in areas where tree hollows are available for shelter and abundant food supplies are present.
  • The Sugar Glider nests  in tree hollows are usually leaf lined.
  • Their nest is notorious because of the foul smell that comes from it. This is because the animal urinates on the leaves in order to keep them down.

Diet:

  • Feed on gum produced by Acacias, and saps of certain Eucalypts.
  • They also eat invertebrates, invertebrate discharges and small animals such as baby birds and young mice.

Social Behaviour:

  • Live in social groups with up to seven adults and their young sharing one common nest, although in summer these groups often break up.
  •  Individuals are recognised by their odour as they have well developed scent-marking glands, especially in the males.
  • Males have two scent glands. One is the bald spot on the top of his head. The second is a tiny bald spot on his chest. Females have a scent gland in their pouch.
  • Sugar gliders make many different sounds.
  • Their playful sounds are like a tiny puppy making a half barking sound.
  • They make a chattering, growling kind of grumpy sound when they are frightened or upset.
  • Babies make a tiny squeak or peep sound to call their mother.
  • Have calls of shrill yapping which warns others of danger approaching.
  • Also have a sharp scream during fights

Breeding and Young:

  • Males give off an odour during breeding, they usually only produce an odour when mating.
  • Though breeding can take place at any time of the year, it usually begins in August.
  • A male establishes his right to mate with a female by rubbing scent from his forehead onto her chest. The female chooses her partners by rubbing her head on the scent glands of the preferred males' chests.
  • After a gestation period of about 16 days a  female produces 2 offspring. Dependant on their mother, they are blind and weigh 0.19 of a gram.
  • The mother helps her newborn into the pouch where each immediately latches on to one of her four nipples. They develop quickly on her protein-rich milk, they stay inside the pouch for about 70 days.
  • They are then deposited in the group nest for a further 30 days. They begin to leave the nest to forage (usually with their mother) at 100-110 days (about 15 weeks) old.
  • They are displaced from their maternal groups when they are 7-10 months old. They may then travel across land to reach isolated forest habitats. If an older female in the group dies, another female offspring may be recruited to take her place, but solitary adults from nearby territories usually replace males that die.
  • Due to predation by owls, kookaburras, goannas and cats, mortality during the first year of life is high. New groups are therefore rarely formed with time to establish themselves.

Additional Information:

  • Sugar gliders can live as long as 15 years.
  • The Sugar Glider was introduced to Tasmania in 1835.
  • Populations of the sugar glider appear to be stable. They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures – in extremely cold conditions, it huddles with others in its leaf lined nest hollow to conserve energy, or becomes torpid (inactive).
  • There predators include owls, kookaburras, goannas and cats.

Additional Information: Courtesy of Damon Ramsey

  • The younger members of the group are usually evicted before 12 months of age, and subsequently there is a high rate of mortality for young gliders (Egerton 1997).

  • As with other gliders, scent and smell are important in social interactions.

  • Recent research indicates secretions from the dominant males can suppress reproductive activity in the other males in the group (Egerton 1997).
    Script: Courtesy of  Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide
     

Additional Sugar Glider PhotosAdditional Sugar Glider Photo 2
Additional Sugar Glider Photos 3Additional Sugar Glider Photos 4
Additional Sugar Glider Photos 5Additional Sugar Glider Photos 6
Sugar Glider Gliding PhotosAdditional Sugar Glider Photos 7

 Sugar Gliders of the Lamington National Park


Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tablelands
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
PH & Fax: 07 4095 3754 International: 61 7 4095 3754

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