Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are small, nocturnal mammals that are usually active at night and sleep during the day. Like kangaroos, they are marsupials and as such, possess a pouch in which the female sugar glider raises her young. In the wild, they live in New Guinea and the eastern coast of Australia in coastal or rainforests. They are social animals who usually cohabit in groups of six to ten, so they should not be kept as single pets. Sugar gliders have unique nutritional requirements which must be properly met to maintain good health (see handout "Sugar Gliders - Feeding").
Male sugar gliders typically weigh 100-160 grams and adult females weigh between 80-130 grams. Weights will vary among individuals and the different subspecies. Sugar gliders can glide up to 165 feet (50 meters) using their gliding membrane, which stretches between the front and hind legs. Both males and females have large eyes.
"Sugar gliders can glide up to 165 feet (50 meters) using their gliding membrane, which stretches between the front and hind legs."
Males have a frontal scent gland located on the top of the head. This gland is used to mark territory and recognize other group members. In adult males, the hair around this gland is sparse or missing.
Unlike other mammals, but similar to birds and reptiles, sugar gliders possess a cloaca. The cloaca is a common opening for the rectum, urinary system, and genital system.
The male sugar glider has a long pendulous scrotum and a forked (bifid) penis. It is recommended to castrate (neuter) male sugar gliders, particularly if housed with other sugar gliders of either sex. Intact male gliders are prone to mutilating themselves. Neutering is relatively straightforward (although magnification may be required) and can be done at any age by a veterinarian with experience in exotic pet medicine.
"It is recommended to castrate (neuter) male sugar gliders, particularly if housed with other sugar gliders of either sex."
The female sugar glider has two uteri and two vaginas that enter into a common pouch divided by a septum or membrane. Female gliders possess a pouch with four teats where their babies develop. The gestation period, or length of pregnancy, is about 15-17 days. Sugar gliders usually give birth to one or two babies at a time. After birth, the tiny young (joeys) migrate to the pouch where they remain for 70-74 days before they leave the pouch for good.
Sexual maturity varies but is generally reached by 8-12 months of age in females and 12-15 months in males. Sugar gliders are considered geriatric pets at 5-7 years of age. The average lifespan is 10-12 years and, for those kept in captivity, depends heavily on how they are cared for.
Sugar gliders can be good pets. They are lively, inquisitive, playful, and intelligent. Socialized sugar gliders enjoy cuddling and often will curl up in the safety of a shirt pocket. If given lots of attention, they will bond with their owners. To socialize them properly, plan to spend one to two hours per day handling your sugar gliders (it is easier to do this at night because they are nocturnal).
"To socialize them properly, plan to spend one to two hours per day handling your sugar gliders..."
Sugar gliders are not easily handled by strangers and often bite, vocalize, and/or urinate if forcibly restrained. They can become agitated if disturbed when resting during the day. Sugar gliders can be nippy; use plenty of caution if you have small children.
Sugar gliders are escape artists and can easily squeeze through the tiniest openings. Cages must be "pet-proofed" to prevent escape and injury. Naturally inquisitive, they will chew on and swallow many things; do not provide them with toys that can be easily chewed apart.
Selecting Your Pet
Ideally, you should purchase a young sugar glider(s). The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. The sugar glider should be curious. It should have a healthy body condition. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. Check for the presence of external parasites such as fleas. If possible, examine the animal's mouth for broken teeth or any obvious sores, any of which could suggest disease. Inquire as to whether the sugar glider has been spayed or neutered.
The First Veterinary Visit
Your sugar glider should be examined by a sugar glider savvy-veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase (this is often required by the seller or any health guarantee will be voided). During this appointment, your veterinarian will discuss proper care, housing, and the unique dietary requirements of your sugar glider. A fecal sample will be examined for internal parasites. Much like dogs, cats, and other pets, sugar gliders require annual veterinary visits to ensure the maintenance of excellent health.
Vaccines are not needed for pet sugar gliders.