Sugar Gliders

In the wild, sugar gliders primarily feed on tree sap, insects, and small animals.

Sugar gliders are small, nocturnal marsupials[1] native to Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. They are omnivore mammals with the scientific name of Petaurus breviceps. They are popular as pets due to their cute and playful nature, as well as their ability to form strong bonds with their owners.

Sugar gliders are small animals, weighing between 90 and 150 grams and measuring 6 to 8 inches in length. They have a membrane called a patagium[2] that extends from their wrists to their ankles, allowing them to glide up to 150 feet in the wild.

They have large, round eyes and bushy tails that help them balance while gliding. They come in a variety of colors, including gray, brown, black, and cream. Often compared with flying squirrels—rodents with similar bodies that can also glide—sugar gliders are more closely related to other marsupials like kangaroos.

As nocturnal animals, they see well in the dark with their big black eyes. They have mostly grey fur but their underbellies are white, and their heads have black stripes. Sugar gliders are social animals that live in groups of up to seven individuals in the wild.

They communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations, including barks, chirps, and hisses. They are also known for their acrobatic abilities and love to play and explore. Sugar gliders are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night and sleep during the day. In the wild, sugar gliders primarily feed on tree sap, insects, and small animals.

Sugar Glider barking

They have an enlarged caecum to assist in the digestion of complex carbohydrates obtained from gum and sap. Sugar gliders may obtain up to half their daily water intake through drinking rainwater, with the remainder obtained through water held in their food. As pets, they require a varied diet that includes high-quality commercial food specifically formulated for sugar gliders, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, and occasional treats such as mealworms or crickets. It is important to avoid feeding them foods that are high in sugar or fat, as well as foods that are toxic to them, such as avocado, chocolate, and caffeine.

Sugar gliders nest in tree hollows with up to 10 other adults. In addition to forests, they’ve also been found in plantations and rural gardens. Like most marsupials, female sugar gliders have two ovaries and two uteri; they are polyestrous, meaning they can go into heat several times a year.

In parts of their range, winter temperatures can fall below freezing. To keep warm, sugar gliders sleep huddled together. That, along with short periods of reduced body temperature called torpor[3], helps them save energy on colder days.

The sugar glider is one of a number of volplanes[4] (gliding) possums in Australia. It glides with the fore- and hind limbs extended at right angles to the body, with feet flexed upwards. The animal launches itself from a tree, spreading its limbs to expose the gliding membranes.

This creates an aerofoil enabling it to glide 55 yards or more. 6 feet traveled horizontally when gliding, it falls 3 feet 3 inches. Steering is controlled by moving limbs and adjusting the tension of the gliding membrane; for example, to turn left, the left forearm is lowered below the right. Sugar gliders require a specialized habitat that includes a large cage with plenty of space to climb and play, as well as toys and other enrichment items. They also need a warm and humid environment, as they are sensitive to cold temperatures and dry air. They should be fed a balanced diet and provided with fresh water at all times. Sugar gliders also require regular veterinary checkups to ensure they are healthy and to catch any health problems early.

  1. Marsupials are a diverse group of mammals characterized by their unique reproductive system, in which the young are born in a relatively undeveloped state and complete their development while attached to the mother’s teats in a pouch. They are found primarily in Australia and nearby islands, but also occur in the Americas. Some well-known examples of marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and opossums. Marsupials have adapted to a wide range of habitats and lifestyles, from grazing on grass to climbing trees to burrowing underground. They are an important component of many ecosystems and have been the subject of much research into their evolution and biology. [Back]
  2. A patagium is a thin, membranous flap of skin found on some animals that is used for gliding or flying. It is particularly common in bats, as well as in some mammals, such as sugar gliders and flying squirrels. The patagium is supported by elongated wrist and finger bones, and is controlled by specialized muscles. It provides lift and drag during gliding or flying, allowing animals to travel long distances and avoid predators. The structure and function of the patagium have been the subject of much research into the evolution of flight and gliding in animals. [Back]
  3. Torpor is a state of decreased physiological activity and metabolism that is found in many animals, particularly those living in environments with limited food and water resources. During torpor, the animal’s body temperature drops, heart rate slows, and energy consumption is reduced. Torpor can be triggered by a variety of factors, including cold temperatures, lack of food or water, and predation risk. It is a temporary state that allows animals to conserve energy and survive periods of low resource availability. Torpor is found in a wide range of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects, and has been the subject of much research into its physiological and ecological implications. [Back]
  4. Volplaning, also known as gliding, is a form of locomotion in which an animal uses air currents to travel through the air without powered flight. It is found in a variety of animals, including birds, insects, and mammals such as flying squirrels and sugar gliders. During volplaning, the animal extends a membrane or flap of skin called a patagium, which generates lift and drag to allow the animal to travel through the air. The animal controls its direction and speed by adjusting the shape and angle of the patagium, as well as by changing the position of its limbs and body. Volplaning is an important adaptation for many animals, allowing them to escape predators, reach food sources, and travel long distances efficiently. [Back]

Further Reading

  • National Geographic
  • Wikipedia
  • The Spruce Pets. (2021). Sugar Glider Care. Retrieved from
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). (n.d.). Sugar Gliders. Retrieved from
  • Tyndale-Biscoe, H. (2005). Life of marsupials. Csiro Publishing.
  • Jones, M. E., & Dickman, C. R. (2019). The biology and conservation of Australasian marsupials and monotremes. Oxford University Press.
  • Meredith, R. W., Westerman, M., & Springer, M. S. (2008). A phylogeny of Diprotodontia (Marsupialia) based on sequences for five nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 49(2), 664-671.
  • Norberg, U. M., & Rayner, J. M. (1987). Ecological morphology and flight in bats (Mammalia; Chiroptera): wing adaptations, flight performance, foraging strategy and echolocation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 316(1179), 335-427.
  • Jackson, S. M. (2003). Gliding mammals: taxonomic diversity, natural history, and conservation status. In Gliding mammals of the world (pp. 1-9). Filander Verlag.
  • Speiser, D. I., Tanner, K. E., & Brinkworth, C. S. (2011). Elastic modulus and stress–strain properties of the patagium of the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps): implications for gliding performance. Journal of Experimental Biology, 214(15), 2611-2616.
  • Jackson, S. M. (2003). Gliding mammals: taxonomic diversity, natural history, and conservation status. In Gliding mammals of the world (pp. 1-9). Filander Verlag.
  • Tobalske, B. W. (2007). Biomechanics of bird flight. Journal of Experimental Biology, 210(18), 3135-3146.
  • Dudley, R. (2002). The biomechanics of insect flight: form, function, evolution. Princeton University Press.
  • Geiser, F. (2004). Metabolic rate and body temperature reduction during hibernation and daily torpor. Annual Review of Physiology, 66(1), 239-274.
  • Heldmaier, G., Ortmann, S., & Elvert, R. (2004). Natural hypometabolism during hibernation and daily torpor in mammals. Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, 141(3), 317-329.
  • Ruf, T., & Geiser, F. (2015). Daily torpor and hibernation in birds and mammals. Biological Reviews, 90(3), 891-926.

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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