Here you will find general information about sugar gliders in their natural habitat as well as in a domesticated environment, and the considerations necessary for sugar glider ownership.
Sugar Glider General Information
A sugar glider is a small marsupial belonging to the same family order as the koala bear, kangaroo, wombat, and the Tasmanian devil.
Sugar gliders get their unique name from their preference for sweet foods such as fruits and vegetables. They also have a membrane that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. This membrane allows gliding to and from various trees and other elevated locations.
Scientific Name (Species): Petaurus Breviceps
Weight, Size and Markings
Adult sugar gliders average about five to six inches in length from their heads to the base of their tails. Their tails are usually just as long and quite bushy.
They have characteristic soft grey mink-like fur which includes a distinct black stripe that runs along the spine and over the head. They also have very distinct black markings on the face, back and legs.
In general, sugar gliders weigh about 4oz to 6oz, and generally the males are heavier.
Sugar gliders have very large, dark eyes that sit at the sides of their heads. This positioning of the eyes allows for a wider field of vision which is beneficial for seeing at night.
The ears of sugar gliders are thin, large and relatively hairless. The ears are unique in that they move independently from each other. This enables sugar gliders to pick up the slightest sounds in their environments.
Sugar gliders have opposable fingers and toes. The front feet include five toes each with sharp curved claws. The back feet have a large opposable toe, and two fused or syndactylous toes. The syndactylous toe forms one toe that has two nails, and is often used by sugar gliders for grooming.
Sugar gliders are known for their gliding abilities which are courtesy of the thin membrane that is located between their front and back legs called a patagium. To glide, sugar gliders simply launch themselves in the air and spread themselves out.
Their long tails are used as a guiding and directional post when gliding through the air. In general, sugar gliders can glide up to 50 meters through the air.
Birth, Development and Reproduction
Birth and Development
Baby sugar gliders are called joeys. They have a short gestation period of about 16 days. When born, they are about the size of a grain of rice.
After the gestation period, the joey moves into the mother’s pouch where it goes through a long developmental process of about 60 days.
A joey is usually ready to leave the pouch within a week’s time when the feet, tail and/or legs are hanging out of the pouch.
Male sugar gliders reach maturity at about nine to ten months. Females follow in maturity a little time afterwards.
After weaning and once independent living has been established, sugar gliders usually leave their birth colonies. They usually join with other sugar gliders of the same age to form new colonies.
Reproduction & Mating
In general, sugar gliders can reach sexual maturity in as little as 4 months old.
The male sugar gliders have forked genitalia, and the females have scent glands located next to their genitalia which assist with the mating process.
Generally, female sugar gliders can have up to four offspring at a time. One or two joeys are usually the average size for a litter.
In the wild, it is usually just one or two males that father all the joeys in one colony.
It is possible for sugar gliders to have offspring of various ages as they can mate up to three times a year.
The main methods of communication for sugar gliders include scent and calling.
Scent is the predominant way in which sugar gliders communicate with each other which is achieved through glands located on specific parts of their bodies.
Each sugar glider has a scent that distinguishes it from the others.
Male sugar gliders have glands located on their chests, between their front legs, and on the diamond-shaped spot on the middle of their foreheads.
Female sugar gliders have glands near their pouches and their genitals.
Sugar gliders communicate by rubbing their glands against each other. This produces a musky, sweet smell that is not at all heavy or bothersome.
Calling is used as a means of communication between sugar gliders. The calls can range from light bird-chirping sounds to sounds that are similar to dogs barking.
The most unique calling vocalization used by sugar gliders is crabbing. Crabbing is the sound made by sugar gliders when they are disturbed in their nests. This sound could be compared to loud rattles.
The vocalization is usually more prominent at night given that sugar gliders are nocturnal animals.
Natural Habitat/Living Environment
Sugar gliders are native to the rainforests of Australia, Indonesia, Tasmania, and New Guinea.
They live in the tall tree tops of the rainforests in groups known as colonies. These colonies usually consist of 10-30 sugar gliders.
The colonies are of significant importance to sugar gliders as they provide the necessary socialization that is required for development and overall well-being.
They are very social creatures that require the ability to bond in the wild and in captivity.
In the wild, sugar gliders are omnivorous. Their diet consists mainly of fruit, nectar, sap, insects and small animals such as birds and rodents.
Life expectancy for sugar gliders varies based on whether they are in the wild or captivity.
Wild- 4 to 6 years
Captivity-10 to 12 years and longer (if cared for properly)
Sugar Gliders in Captivity/As Pets
Given that sugar gliders are wild animals, they do have specific needs that must be met in order to ensure that they lead productive, healthy lives while in captivity. The following is an overview of some of the common factors that should be considered when choosing to keep sugar gliders in captivity as pets.
Selecting a Breeder
In order to ensure that you receive a healthy sugar glider, it is important to select a high-quality reputable breeder. Breeding conditions will determine whether the sugar glider of choice or the parents were exposed to an environment that will comprise overall health and well-being.
Some signs of a decent breeder include:
- Willingness to provide extensive background on the parents of the selected sugar glider (This helps to determine if the sugar glider will have any possible health issues)
- Selling sugar gliders in pairs
- Neutering male sugar gliders if sold with female sisters to avoid inbreeding
- Providing basic instructional information about the care and maintenance of sugar gliders
With the increasing popularity of sugar gliders, breeders can be found locally and online.
If it is possible to obtain a sugar glider from a local breeder, check the conditions in which the sugar gliders are living. The cages should be spacious and thoroughly clean and free of debris and feces. Overcrowding of cages should be avoided at all costs.
Ask to see the breeding sugar gliders to determine if the female gliders are treated properly. Over breeding can over stress the mother’s body. Ask if the breeding females are given extra nutrients while nursing to ensure the health of both the mother and the joey.
Buy a Sugar Glider Online
It is possible to purchase a sugar glider from an online breeder. If going this route, it is highly important to research the background of the breeder prior to committing to a purchase. Check for years of experience and reviews from other sugar glider owners to confirm knowledge, experience, and trustworthiness.
Obtaining a sugar glider from an online breeder requires consideration of the following:
· Shipment Methods-Confirm shipment methods to ensure that the sugar glider purchased will arrive in a healthy and safe condition. Sugar gliders are animals so air travel is the only safe way to deliver them at a long distance. Confirm that Pet Safe passenger planes are used for added confirmation that the sugar glider will be properly cared for while on a flight as these planes contain temperature controlled embargoes.
· Shipping Locations-Determine whether an online breeder ships to a specific area. Some only ship within specific countries while others ship internationally. In all cases, the cost of air flight is the customer’s responsibility.
By their very nature, sugar gliders need ample space to live and play. Remember, they are native to rainforests and live in trees. Height, space, and the ability to climb are very important to the overall well-being of a sugar glider.
Cage sizes for sugar gliders can vary, but in general, the bigger the better.
A good minimum size cage would be about 24in wide by 24in deep by 36in high. The cage will need to be larger depending on the number of sugar gliders sharing a cage.
Height is very important as sugar gliders need space to glide.
The bars of the cage should be no more than ½ wide to prevent the sugar gliders from escaping from the cage. Horizontal bars are preferred as they encourage climbing.
Floor grating should come with the cage as this prevents the sugar glider from accessing the drop pan which catches feces and old food. Plastic mesh added to the floor is another way to prevent access to the drop pan while providing additional landing and resting space.
Toys & Accessories
In order to ensure that a sugar glider has lots of engagement, adding toys and accessories to the cage is important. All cloth items added to the cage should be washable. Some good options to include in the cage are:
· Nesting box
· Exercise wheel
· Glider pouch
· Noise makers
· Foraging Toys
There are a number of diets promoted as being the best. However, each owner has to determine what diet is best for a sugar glider. Generally, sugar gliders are healthiest with a diet that consists of lots of sweet fruit and vegetables. The use of supplemented food such as hamster food is not recommended unless it is specifically made for sugar gliders. Variety is also important to ensure that sugar gliders receive the nutrients they need. Some recommended foods include:
· Sweet fruits
· Nectar from flowers
· Non-animal based proteins
Sugar Glider Behavior
Sugar gliders are typically very mild, tame, and gentle-mannered when they are handled at a young age. Handling at a young age, such as when they first leave the mother’s pouch, ensures that as they develop they will bond easier and not run away.
As social creatures, sugar gliders like attention and are very playful. They tend to be better in pairs or groups, so anyone deciding not to purchase sugar gliders as a duo or more will need to commit to providing lots of attention.
Sugar gliders are fairly clean animals. They like the areas where they rest to be clean, so there is usually little concern in regards to them using the bathroom everywhere.
Sugar gliders are nocturnal, and they will become active at night. They will start climbing, gliding and making various sounds as a way to engage with each other and their environment.
Sugar gliders are pack animals by nature. In the wild, they live in colonies with upwards of 10 other sugar gliders. So, having company is important for these animals.
In fact, sugar gliders can become depressed and even die if they are left alone too long. Engagement is necessary which is why it is best to purchase more than one sugar glider at a time so there is always company.
Male and female sugar gliders cohabit very well. Male sugar gliders cohabitating will do well, but it is best that they are socialized at a young age.
Gliders can be territorial, and they will attack if they feel threatened. In most cases, proper socialization and early taming and handling help to reduce the occurrence of these behaviors tremendously. Sugar gliders make great family pets as they get along not only with each other but with other family pets and people.
Bonding With Your Sugar Glider
The bonding process between sugar gliders and the respective owner is very important. Acquiring a sugar glider at a young age does assist with the bonding process. Bonding is not a complicated process, but it will require time on the effort of the owner.
Bonding is often achieved by allowing the sugar glider to establish close physical contact. This is usually done by allowing the sugar glider to remain close for extended periods of time through the use of bonding pouches that can be attached to the owner’s clothing, or by simply letting the sugar glider hitch a ride in a shirt pocket.
Increased and steady personal contact will ensure that the sugar glider and the owner form a close bond. Once this bond is formed, sugar gliders are very affectionate and loyal and remain deeply bonded to their owner.
Your home will become their home, and sugar gliders will show they are at ease with their willingness to play, cuddle and interact.
In general, sugar gliders are typically healthy animals as long as they are provided with an environment that is supportive of their physical and socialization needs.
Sugar gliders are considered exotic animals, and in some locations that may not be legal to own. Legality can determine if a vet is able to provide veterinarian care to sugar gliders in certain locations. This is something that all potential owners should research prior to purchasing a sugar glider to be informed of the various veterinarian options available.
While sugar gliders have become increasingly popular among those looking for a clean, adorable pet, potential owners should consider if sugar gliders are the best pet option for them. Some factors that should be considered include:
· Allergies-If the potential owner has allergies to any type of pet hair, owning a sugar glider should be considered carefully. While the majority of people do not have allergic reactions to sugar gliders, others may find the opposite is true. The best way to know for sure is to handle the sugar glider and watch for allergic reactions.
· Space-Is the environment spacious enough to allow the sugar glider space to naturally climb and glide? Is there an adequately sized cage that encourages movement?
· Resources-Potential owners should access if they have the resources to properly care for sugar gliders. There are costs associated with setting up a cage properly, providing the proper diet, and maintaining health if needed.
· Time-Anyone that is considering a sugar glider as a pet must have time. Taming, bonding, socializing and daily interacting are all necessary parts of owning a sugar glider. Potential owners have to be really honest with themselves as to whether or not they have the time and patience necessary to commit to sugar glider ownership.
It is the goal that this guide will provide a basic understanding of the sugar glider as an animal in the wild as well as what is needed when considering the sugar glider as a domesticated pet.