What is a Sugar Glider or Sugar Bear?
A Sugar Glider is a small, furry creature that is native to Australia, Indonesia as well as New Guinea. A Sugar Glider’s appearance closely resembles that of a mole, mouse, or a flying squirrel. Sugar Gliders have become wildly popular as domesticated pets around the world due to their unique anatomies and their naturally sweet dispositions. These tiny creatures have also been referred to as Sugar Bears. Sugar Gliders are typically covered in a very soft fur coat which is commonly found in brown or pale gray.
Why are they called “Sugar Gliders?”
Their name was inspired by their diet of choice as well as their ability to “glide” through the rain forest air. Their natural habitats are surrounded by sweet fruits, vegetables, and plants which the Sugar Glider happily consumes throughout the day. Their “flying” ability is created much in the same way that it is for a Flying Squirrel. The Sugar Glider has a membrane called the patagium, which is attached to both his ankles as well as both of his wrists. When the Sugar Glider wishes to “fly” he stretches out this membrane and jumps into the air simultaneously. He will then glide to another location with the help of the air current catching his stretched out membrane. Sugar Gliders use this gliding action as a means of finding their next meal as well as avoiding being the next meal for a predator. With these two pieces of information about the small marsupials, they were given the obvious name of the Sugar Glider.
The interesting anatomy of a Sugar Glider
Sugar Gliders are small marsupials that closely resemble the appearance of rodents or squirrels without being related to them at all. In fact, it is understandable why so many people mistake the Sugar Glider for a member of the squirrel family.
Simply looking at their anatomy, the Sugar Glider has a squirrel-like body shape which is combined with a long tail. Their fur, as mentioned earlier, is a soft and thick coat that is commonly gray or brown. However, it is not unheard of for the Sugar Glider to have other fur color variations such as tan, yellow or even the occasional albino.
Sugar Gliders typically have a black stripe that begins near their nose and ends around the middle of their backs. This stripe is very distinctive for the Sugar Glider. The Sugar Glider’s belly side is usually much lighter than the rest of his fur. The most common colors of their undersides include cream, white, or a very light gray.
There are quite a few physical characteristics of the Sugar Glider which help them to stand out or be easily identified. For example, the Sugar Glider has large, round eyes that are set far apart. These eyes are specifically designed this way to help the Sugar Glider see in the dark. The other interesting piece of a Sugar Glider’s anatomy (aside from their patagium membrane to make the glide) is their feet! A Sugar Glider’s feet are not really “feet” at all, they are actually better described as hands!
That’s right; the Sugar glider has four hands and no feet. These appendages have (clawless) opposable thumbs (similar to humans) which give the Sugar Glider the ability to hold items, pick things up, and grip onto things much in the same way that we do! There are very few animals in the world (besides humans) with this ability!
Sugar Gliders have five digits on each of their “feet” just as humans do. While we have already discussed their opposable digit (thumb) we should also briefly talk about their fourth digit. This fourth digit (on his forefoot) is sharper and more elongated than his other digits. This is because the Sugar Glider uses this particular digit to dig out various insects from under tree bark.
There is another piece of anatomy for the Sugar Glider that only develops on the female. This is called a marsupium. A marsupium is a pouch that develops on the underside (or belly) of the female Sugar Glider. She will use this pouch to carry her offspring in for about 110 days after they are born.
Is a Sugar Glider part of the rodent family?
This is a very common misconception of the Sugar Glider. It is easy to assume that the Sugar Glider is a member of the rodent family due to his similar anatomy and physical appearance to various rodents including the Flying Squirrel. However, the Sugar Glider is not a rodent at all! He is actually a member of the Petauridae family. They are known as marsupials rather than rodents and are very closely related to the Kangaroo and the Koala Bear (also why the Sugar Glider is sometimes referred to as the Sugar Bear).
Are they destructive creatures?
The Sugar Glider is typically classified as a non-destructive creature. This is one of the Sugar Glider’s features which clearly sets them apart from rodents. Rodents (domesticated or non-domesticated, alike) are naturally classified as destructive due to their constant need to chew on hard objects.
They are not particularly picky about the object they are chewing on which often means they will chew on furniture, children’s toys, and even your favorite pair of sneakers. Sugar Gliders are not chewers and therefore your furniture and other household items are safe.
Are Sugar Gliders nocturnal?
Sugar Gliders are instinctually nocturnal creatures. This means that (in the wild) they will likely sleep much of the day and spend the dark hours eating, playing, and gliding through the air. Much of their physical characteristics are developed to support a nocturnal lifestyle. For example, the size, placement, and shape of their eyes. Sugar Gliders have large, round eyes that are set far apart on their head to improve their night vision. Their ears are also designed for a nocturnal lifestyle in that they have the ability to swivel and listen for prey during the dark hours.
However, their nocturnal instincts may be diminished if they are domesticated. Sugar Gliders can be taught by their owners what time their bedtime is as well as when they should be awake. This means that if the owner wishes for their Sugar Glider to be awake and active (as we are) during the daylight hours then they can train their Sugar Glider that the dark hours are for sleeping.
It is typically recommended that if a Sugar Glider is trained a specific sleep cycle that their owner should see to it that it is enforced each day. It is also recommended that if the owner spends much of the daylight hours away from the home that the Sugar Glider be allowed to remain nocturnal. This will benefit the Sugar Glider in that he will then not experience boredom while his owner is gone.
Domesticated Sugar Gliders that are allowed to remain nocturnal will sleep while their owners are away during the daylight hours and then spend the dark hours sleeping and playing. Their nighttime routines will not disturb sleeping owners because they are generally very quiet creatures.
Do Sugar Gliders have an odor?
Anyone who has ever owned an animal (cat, dog, bird, ferret, rabbit, etc.) will tell you all of the pros of owning said animal as well as all of the cons. The cons almost always involve the presence of the animal’s odor. However, this is where Sugar Gliders seem to stand alone.
These tiny marsupials do not have a noticeable scent (good or bad) as long as they are provided with the correct diet. They may develop an odor if they are given animal proteins as part of their domesticated diet. The odor produced by domesticated Sugar Gliders that consume animal proteins is typically a musky type scent.
Sugar Gliders do produce hormone based smells which are not detectable by our noses but, they are noticeable to other Sugar Gliders. So, owners of Sugar Gliders should feel free to carry them around without worrying about an odor.
What does a Sugar Glider eat?
Sugar Gliders are omnivorous creatures. This means that they happily accept food that is both plant-based (i.e. fruits and vegetables) as well as food that is animal based (i.e. insects). In the wild, Sugar Gliders adjust their diets based on the current season and what is primarily available.
For example, during the winter months, the plants are primarily available. They will feed on eucalyptus sap, manna, acacia gum, lerp, and honeydew. In order for them to reach these nectars and saps, the Sugar Gliders will use their teeth and hands to strip the bark off of the trees, or open plants.
Alternatively, when the summer months arrive, the insects are the primary source of food for the wild Sugar Glider. It is during this time of year when the Sugar Glider will feed on various insects and often times use their extended fourth digit to dig them out of trees.
Interestingly, Sugar Gliders in the wild have also been known to eat animal proteins when the opportunity arises. These animal proteins may consist of small birds, bird eggs, and lizards.
Domesticated Sugar Gliders have no need for animal proteins and should be fed a simple and inexpensive diet that consists of slices of fresh fruit and pellets. The Sugar Glider specific pellets are specifically formulated to provide Sugar Gliders with protein without causing them to produce an odor. If a domesticated Sugar Glider were to be fed animal proteins then he would definitely produce a musky odor that is easily detectable by our noses.
Interesting potty facts
Sugar Gliders make awesome domesticated pets for a long list of reasons. However, their bathroom habits may be a deal breaker for some potential owners. These adorable little marsupials do not use a litter box nor can they be trained to use a litter box as a cat would. They are also not able to be let outside to relieve themselves like a dog would, as they would likely “fly” away.
So, how do sugar Gliders relieve themselves?
Domesticated Sugar Gliders relieve themselves with help from their owners. The owner will need to remove the Sugar Glider from his cage or wherever he is at the time and place him on a paper towel. The Sugar Glider will then know to relieve himself. Some owners have found it easier to hold their Sugar Glider over a sink so that they can relieve themselves.
How often do Sugar Gliders need to relieve themselves?
Sugar Gliders instinctually will not relieve themselves where they sleep. On rare occasions, some owners may find that their Sugar Glider has relieved himself where he sleeps and this is most likely an indication that the owner was away from the Sugar Glider too long. On a normal basis, Sugar Gliders will need to relieve themselves when they wake up as well as on a 3 hour to 4-hour cycle during their waking hours.
Are there distinct differences between boy Sugar Gliders and girl Sugar Gliders?
There are some aspects of the Sugar Glider that differ between males and females and there are some characteristics which remain the same throughout the species.
Male Sugar Gliders have a total of four scent glands throughout their bodies. The first scent gland is located on the male’s forehead (which will appear like a bald spot), the second gland is located on his chest and the final two scent glands are located on his para cloacal. The para cloacal is described as being associated with (but not technically part of) the cloaca.
The cloaca is an opening for the male’s intestinal, urinal, and genital tracts. Male Sugar Gliders use this opening and scent glands to mark their territory as well as leave “scent messages” for other group members. Female Sugar Gliders only have two scent glands. They have one located inside of their pouch and the other is located on the para cloacal. Female Sugar Gliders do not have scent glands on their forehead or on their chest.
Anyone who has ever owned a cat or dog understands how the males will often times have a very different personality when compared to that of the female. The personality and temperaments of Sugar Gliders do not vary based on gender but, rather on the individual marsupial. In general, Sugar Gliders are incredibly sweet natured and enjoys the company of others.
They do not require same-sex or different-sex cage mates and are rarely hostile. Wild Sugar Gliders will live happily in large groups that make up males and females of varying ages. Domesticated Sugar Gliders can find peace having a cage all to themselves with only their owner for companionship. However, most Sugar Gliders thrive when they have at least one other cage-mate regardless of gender.
While this may seem like an obvious difference between males and females, the technical anatomy of their reproductive parts is somewhat unique to the Sugar Glider. Female Sugar Gliders have two uteri as well as two ovaries. Females are classified as being polyestrous which means that they are capable of reproducing multiple times each year.
Female Sugar Gliders also have a pouch located on their belly (their underside). They use their pouch to carry and further develop their offspring in for 110 days after they are born. Inside the female’s pouch is also where her nipples are located. Most female Sugar Gliders have four nipples total, although there have been cases of some females only having two nipples. The male Sugar Gliders do not develop a pouch on their bellies as they are not responsible for carrying their young.
Instead, the male Sugar Gliders have a bifurcated penis. A bifurcated penis is common among male marsupials and simply means that the penis has two separate columns (one for each of the females’ two vaginas).
Male Sugar Gliders are also quite unique for a mammal species as they are one of the few that participate in parental duties and care. Typically in other species of mammals, the female does all of the parental work for the offspring.
Pros and Cons of owning a Sugar Glider
Pros of owning a Sugar Glider
- They do not require vaccinations as long as they are healthy.
- Affectionate family pet once bonding has been established.
- They are not aggressive creatures nor are they destructive to household items.
- They are not a smelly pet if provided with a proper diet.
Cons of owning a Sugar Glider
- The overall cost of owning a Sugar Glider can be quite high. They are expensive to purchase and their appropriate accessories (food, cages, hammocks, etc.) can also run up quite the tab. The cost of their veterinary care would also be quite high since they are classified as “exotic” pets which a regular veterinarian would not be qualified to treat. Therefore you would have to seek out and pay for a veterinarian who specializes in “exotic” pet care.
- Bonding can be difficult.
- They require extensive daily care including the assistance of their owners to relieve themselves.