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Jessi and her three furry friends share everything you need to know about sugar gliders: What they are, Where they come from, and How to care for them in captivity!

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Hi everyone, welcome back to Animal Wonders!

I’m Jessi and this is Boomerang the sugar glider. We’ve been rescuing and caring for wild and exotic animals for over 15 years.

Our organization provides the animals with a safe and comfortable home, and we then allow them to become ambassadors for their species by giving educational presentations to the public. Sugar gliders are a fairly popular small exotic animal to have as a pet, but they’re often discarded or rehomed due to their long lifespans and the unexpected level of commitment that they require. These adorable little cuties are interesting and so very special, but they can be very challenging to have as a companion in your home if you don’t know what to expect.

Which is why I wanted to do a feature on them! So let's get to know sugar gliders by exploring what they are, where they come from, and how to care for them properly in captivity. [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC]. Okay, so what are sugar gliders?

Here you go, Boomerang. You head on up there! Let’s get to know them by classifying them.

First up is their kingdom. They belong to Animalia, which means they’re a multicellular living organism that can move. So they’re not a plant, they’re an animal.

Phylum: Chordata. They have bilateral symmetry and a notochord during development and a skeleton as an adult, among other characteristics of this group of animals.

Class: Mammalia. They’re warm blooded, their body covering is fur, and they have a 4 chambered heart. They give birth to live young and nurse their young with milk produced in mammary glands by the mother. Infraclass: Marsupialia.

These mammals are native to the Americas and Australia. Probably the most distinctive characteristic is that almost all female marsupials have a front pouch to carry and protect their underdeveloped young. Most marsupials also lack ossified kneecaps and have significantly more teeth than other mammals.

Order: Diprotodontia. Marsupials belonging to this group are only found in Australasia. They have two prominent front teeth on the bottom and their 2nd and 3rd toes on their hind feet are fused together, which is called syndactylous.

Family: Petauridae. And we’re getting down to it now! This group is comprised of just 11 species in 3 genera, including possums and trioks. All petaurids have similar facial markings and a stripe running down their back, but not all can glide.

Which brings us to...

Genus: Petaurus. This group includes 6 species of arboreal marsupials that are often called flying phalangers because of their ability to glide using a special fold of skin running from their front foot to their back foot. All the species in this genus look similar, which brings us to... Species: breviceps.

The meaning of their Latin name Petaurus breviceps translates to “short-headed rope-dancer,” which perfectly describes how they move through the trees. They differ from the other glider species with some small physical characteristics, though genetic testing using mitochondrial. DNA suggests that the differences don’t actually mean they are genetically unique.

Sugar gliders are the smallest of the gliders and most commonly kept as pets. What are you guys doing? Hi, little friend.

Okay, now that we’ve delved into what a sugar glider is, let’s talk about where they come from. This is important because, in order to understand why an animal does what it does, you have to look at where they would naturally spend their time. Knowing their native habitat and learning what they do all day helps open your eyes to what their world is all about.

So, sugar gliders can be found in the wild in Australia living in a variety of forests on the south eastern part of the mainland. Their ideal habitat has a multitude of branches and stems and a dense canopy which allows them to climb, run, and jump along the trees with ease. Sugar gliders have evolved specific adaptations that allow them to thrive in their environment.

First, they are nocturnal, sleeping solidly through the daylight hours and only becoming active after nightfall. You can see that they have very large eyes which give them excellent night vision. This makes hunting in low light much easier since they can quickly spot the tiniest of movements of an insect.

And their eyes are spaced widely apart for better precision when launching and landing long distances. Sugar gliders are also equipped with sharp curved nails and unique toes that are perfect for gripping. Each foot has five digits, and their back feet are really neat.

They each have one flexible opposable toe, like a human thumb, which they can use to firmly grab a branch. As we learned earlier, their 2nd and 3rd digits on their back feet are partially fused together which is called syndactylous, and they use this double clawed toe for grooming. The 4th digit on their back foot is extra long, and they're known to use it to help them catch insects secretly hiding under the bark of a tree.

Now besides they’re extreme cuteness, sugar gliders are probably most famous for their ability to glide. They do this using a flexible length of skin that extends from the outside of the 5th digit of their front feet down to their back feet. When they stretch their legs out completely, the folded skin becomes taut, allowing the sugar glider to glide a good distance from tree to tree.

They can’t flap like a bird or bat and gain altitude. However, they can use their arms, body, and long tail to steer different directions midair, and they’re able to glide up to 50 meters! Sugar gliders are quite small and are vulnerable to many predator species.

Being nocturnal helps them avoid some of the predators in the forests, but being little makes them highly reactive and often on the lookout for a potential ambush. They use their sensitive eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell to avoid getting caught, and their eyes are well suited to detecting movement. Their super grippy nails allow them to move quickly out of harm’s way, and their color helps them camouflage into their environment.

And of course, their ability to glide allows them to stay in the safety of the trees and avoid ground dwelling predators. Sugar gliders are very social and live in family groups or colonies of up to seven adults and their young. Every sugar glider has a distinct personality, some are curious and want to explore, some are sensitive and nervous in new situations, and others are bold and possessive of food or territory.

Most sugar gliders look very similar, with bluish grey fur, a cream colored underside, and a black stripe running from their head down their back. Males tend to be larger than females, and some individuals have a distinctly different color and slightly different stripe pattern. They have a strict social hierarchy and usually there are two codominant males, subordinate males, and females in the colony.

The males have scent glands on their forehead and chest, and the dominant males are responsible for marking their colony and territory by rubbing their scent on everything. They will also often use their urine and saliva to make sure everyone and everything smells just like them. Any intruders who don’t smell like the colony are immediately, and often violently, rejected.

The colony eats and sleeps together and engages in social grooming to reinforce their bonds and keep each other clean and healthy. Sugar gliders spend a lot of their time foraging for food. They're opportunistic omnivores and eat a wide variety of foods.

They are also described as seasonally adaptive, meaning their diet changes depending on what’s available. During the summer they eat mainly insects and other invertebrates. In the winter when insects are scarce, they will eat tree sap, acacia gum, and honeydew or lerp produced by bugs.

Whenever available they will also snack on fruits, nectar, seeds, bird eggs or small chicks, lizards, pollen, and fungi. While the gliders are foraging for food, they’re also frequently drinking drops of rain water that have collected on leaves and bark. And they also consume foods that are moisture rich, so a healthy glider is always well hydrated.

Sugar gliders are marsupials, meaning they give birth to live young, but the babies are underdeveloped and must continue their development inside the safety of their mother’s pouch. The babies, which are called joeys, are born after a gestation period of just 15-17 days. The joeys are very small, furless, blind, and aren’t able to survive on their own.

Their sense of smell is their only well developed sense, and they will follow their mother’s scent and climb into the safety of her pouch where they will stay and grow for about 2 months. They continue to develop in the pouch, getting their nutrients from their mother’s milk, and at 80 days their eyes open. When they start exploring out of their mother’s pouch, others in the colony will help keep them warm and safe.

Sugar glider males have strong paternal behaviors, and the codominant males will often curl around the joeys to make sure they don’t get too cold. The babies are weaned and able to thermoregulate, or keep themselves warm, when they're about 4 months old. Some of the young will stay in the colony and others will venture off and join or establish new colonies.

Sugar gliders spend their whole life actively foraging, socializing with their colony, and utilizing their specific adaptations to survive in a dangerous and competitive environment. Which leads us to look at jow we can appropriately care for them in captivity. The short answer is: it’s hard.

The long answer is: keep all of their natural history in mind when finding solutions to their care. So the first thing we need to address is a reminder that sugar gliders are nocturnal. So all of their escapades will be happening at night when all the lights have been turned off and it’s nice and dark.

The second important thing to remember is that sugar gliders are highly social by nature, so they should not be housed alone. They need companionship to live a good life. They also need to be able to move a lot.

Which brings us to their housing requirements. They may be small animals, but giving them as many opportunities to climb, run, and jump is essential to healthy and happy gliders. They benefit greatly from a variety of things to climb on.

Thick and thin branches, ropes, shelves, and hanging toys are great ways to encourage active play and exploration of their entire space. Changing their furniture around, replacing old things often, and adding new items is encouraged. Remember, in the wild they live in an ever changing forest with new smells and experiences every day.

So they'll also benefit greatly from being allowed to explore outside their enclosure. The challenging part about this is that not only will they be doing this at night, but sugar gliders will scent mark their territory. So be prepared for the room, or your entire house, to smell like sugar glider scent gland oils and urine.

Also, remember that sugar gliders are little and can easily squeeze into small spaces. So before letting them out of their enclosure, make sure you’ve properly glider proofed any areas that they can access. Pay special attention to any windows or doors they could run through if accidentally opened.

And also be aware of dangers like open toilets, hot stove tops or heaters, and fast moving fans. Sugar gliders also need plenty of enrichment to keep them happy. Enrichment is anything that gets them to engage in activities they would do naturally.

Like foraging, climbing, running, playing, and chewing. If you don’t provide interesting activities for the gliders, they will find something to fill their time, like chewing on walls and trim, barking out of boredom... [SUGAR GLIDER BARKING] ...or obsessively running because they need to release their energy somehow. If you don’t provide enough enrichment to keep them busy, they can become so bored or frustrated that they will exhibit neurotic behaviors like overgrooming, repeating the same motion over and over, biting the bars of a cage, or becoming severely aggressive.

So before bringing a sugar glider into your home, be sure to realistically assess how much time you’re willing to put into their daily enrichment needs. And if you’re not ready for the commitment, maybe now isn’t the right time to take in a glider. Alright, so some ideas for enrichment are: a running wheel, a variety of places for them to climb into and hide or curl up to sleep.

Cloth pouches come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but coconut shells or other small spaces are great, too. Perches and natural branches are great to climb on. If you’re using natural branches, be sure they don’t have any toxic chemicals on them and avoid woods that are toxic if chewed on, for example plum or apricot.

Hanging toys are great for climbing, and ground toys that can be manipulated are really fun, like balls or small figures. Another idea for enrichment is non toxic grass or fresh leaves scattered around their enclosure. Also scents that are safe for them to interact with can be rubbed or spread on their toys, perches, or walls.

Some examples of fun scents are: flower pollen, cinnamon, honey, rosemary oil, anise, lemon peel, and vanilla. Getting creative with enrichment is a great way to continue enjoying your pet over the years. Alright, next up is a proper diet.

After learning about their diet in the wild, you can guess that providing them with a proper diet in captivity can be challenging. Thankfully, knowledge has improved over recent years, and not only has our understanding of their dietary requirements expanded, nutritious products available to the public have also improved. So first up is their need for easy access to plenty of water.

A lixit bottle is a good option since they naturally drink by licking drops of rain. Be sure the water stays fresh by replacing it daily and watch the amount being consumed to ensure there’s no change in how much they’re drinking. If you notice a change, it could mean the bottle is malfunctioning, or your glider is sick and needs to go to the vet for a checkup.

There are a few different routes you can take to give them a nutritionally complete diet, but all of them involve a wide variety of options. We’ve cared for many sugar gliders over the years and we currently have 3 males living together. To make sure they’re getting what they need, they each get their own bowl with the same amounts of the following: 1 tsp Mazuri insectivore diet, 1 tsp HPW nectar, 1 tbs variety of fresh vegetables, 1 tsp variety of fresh fruit, and 3 mealworms or crickets.

So the takeaways for proper care in captivity are: If you provide a good amount of space for them to be active, plenty of enrichment, fresh water, and a good diet, your sugar gliders are well on their way to living a healthy and happy life. Lastly, but so incredibly important, is sugar gliders will need a vet who specializes in small exotic animals. If they do get sick or an accident happens, they require specific care.

So it's best to research available vets in your area before you decide to bring sugar gliders into your home. Then if or when the gliders arrive, schedule an initial exam to establish a relationship with the vet and screen for any potential illnesses. This way you know who to call if an emergency happens.

Also, if you plan to have a male and female housed together, it’s best to have the male neutered to prevent unwanted breeding. You may think it’s a fun idea to have babies, but remember that babies only stay little for a few months, and then you’ll be responsible for another 1 or 2 adult gliders for hopefully the next 12-17 years. Which includes providing the whole colony with more space, more food, more enrichment, and a plan in case they don’t all get along with each other.

Also know that in order to have your sugar gliders enjoy interacting with you, you need to spend a ton of time with them, especially when they’re young. Remember how closely they bond with their colony in the wild? They eat, sleep, and groom with each other all the time.

If you leave them all alone all night when they’re most active, you’re going to miss out on the most crucial times to establish a trust bond. Interacting with sugar gliders also takes understanding and practice. Their ways of communicating are different than humans, so you’ll need to learn their body language and vocalizations in order to form a trusting relationship.

Pay attention to how they move, how they hold their tail, how fast or slow they are. The key is you want them to know you’re a safe place to be and a good place to find treats. Sugar gliders are adorable, fascinating, and so adventurous, and I want everyone to appreciate their beauty and also respect them for who they naturally are.

And now we’ve covered what sugar gliders are, where they come from, and the basics of how to properly care for them in captivity. There’s even more to learn about sugar gliders, so if you’re interested in knowing more about them, I’ve put links in the description below for a deeper look. Thanks for watching!

And if you’d like to learn more about the animals we care for at Animal Wonders and want to go on animal adventures every week, be sure to subscribe and I’ll see you soon! Bye! [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC].