Sugar Gliders: Tiny Acrobats

In the last decade or so, the popularity of sugar gliders as pets has grown considerably. The small size of these furry acrobats, their personalities, their plush fur, their large eyes, their agility and their ability to bond closely with humans have attracted legions of new sugar glider devotees.

What is a sugar glider and where did they originally come from? Sugar gliders are small marsupials and members of the possum family. They are found in Australia, Tasmania, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Their scientific name is Petaurus breviceps. Most sugar gliders these days are captive-bred and not wild-caught.

Like their larger marsupial cousins, kangaroos, sugar gliders have a pouch where their infants grow and develop. Their young are called "joeys," as are the young of kangaroos. You may come across the term OOP while researching sugar gliders on the internet. OOP means "out-of-pouch" and it indicates how long the joey has been completely out of his mother's pouch. Joeys are ready to go to a new home at approximately 8 weeks OOP.

Sugar gliders are approximately chipmunk-sized, measuring about 9 to 12 inches long (including their long tail), and they weigh about 3 to 6 ounces as adults. Their normal color is steel gray to brownish with a black stripe down the back, but selective breeding in captivity has brought out other color variations, including albinos. In captivity, they can live as long as 15 years, although 8 to 12 years is more usual.

One of the most distinguishing features of sugar gliders is a thin membrane, called a patagium, that stretches between their front and rear legs, much like the more familiar flying squirrels of North America. This is what allows them to glide from tree to tree. When they glide, the skin spreads out, making sugar gliders look like furry kites! When the sugar glider is sitting, the patagium looks like ruffled furry skin, shaped somewhat like the edge of lasagna noodles.

Their tail is not prehensile, unlike their more familiar American opossum cousins. That means that sugar gliders cannot grasp, grip and hang from their tails. Instead, the tail is used as a balancing and stabilizing tool, especially while gliding.

Sugar gliders are nocturnal, which means they are active at night. They have very large (relative to their size) eyes, which help them see at night. They also have large ears, an obvious benefit to an animal who is both preyed-upon and a predator. Those big ears allow them to hear even the smallest sound.

Sugar gliders have fixed teeth, incisors, molars, and premolars. You should not trim your sugar glider