Sugar Glider’s life in the tree tops

Wednesday 1 March, 2023
The Catchment Critter of the Month for March is the Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) as part of the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority’s Grey Box Grassy Woodlands community wildlife awareness campaign.

Named for its fondness for sugary sap and nectar, the nocturnal Sugar Glider spends much of its arboreal nightlife leaping and gliding in search of food and nesting hollows.

Goulburn Broken CMA Project Officer, Janice Mentiplay-Smith, said the Sugar Glider was one of three species of glider found in the Goulburn Broken catchment’s Grey Box Grassy Woodlands, the other two being the Squirrel Glider and the Narrow-toed Feather-tailed Glider, and is one of Australia’s seven species of glider. 

“The Sugar Glider, as with all gliders, has a membrane extending between its ankles and wrists”, Ms Mentiplay-Smith said.

“Upon leaping from a branch, it extends its limbs to open this “parachute”. It may glide for up to 50-80 metres or further depending on the height of the tree from which it alights and the surrounding topography, using its long tail as a rudder.

“Unlike a bat or bird, the Sugar Glider is not capable of sustained flight, however its ability to glide is a unique adaptation to a life lived amongst the treetops.”

Females give birth in winter and spring after just 15-17 days gestation, when one or two joeys weighing an incredible 0.2 grams, are born.

Using their acute sense of smell, the tiny joeys crawl towards the scent gland in their mother’s pouch where they remain safely cocooned, consuming milk for 60 days. During the colder months, the Sugar Glider enters a state of torpor, a form of short-term “hibernation” whereupon it minimises energy consumption by curling into a tiny ball and reducing breathing and body temperature. 

Ms Mentiplay-Smith said Sugar Glider survival depended on the presence of large, mature trees with hollows.

“The loss of large old hollow-bearing trees, habitat decline and the fragmentation of vegetation and patches of woodlands means this and many other native animals cannot easily travel easily to search for food and mates,” she said.

“As the incremental loss of large old trees continues across the landscape, the Sugar Glider is forced to occupy dangerous roadsides where large old trees remain, increasing the risk of vehicle collision.”

As well as loss of natural hollows, other threats include the loss of understorey food plants, inappropriate fire regimes, cats, foxes, and barbed wire fences that snags the delicate gliding membrane.

“One way to help the Sugar Glider and other hollow-dependent species is to install nest boxes on your property. Nest boxes are essentially artificial tree hollows and are readily used by gliders when installed in suitable habitat and are a useful short-term solution to the native animal ‘tree hollow housing crisis’ currently experienced by many species”. 

If you are interested in either building or purchasing nest boxes, the following links are a great place to start:  www.latrobe.edu.au and ‘Build your own Wildlife Nest Box: A guide for Western Sydney’ which gives instructions for the same species present in our local region: www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au

Read more about the Sugar Glider and the other mammal species in the Goulburn Broken catchment’s Grey Box Grassy Woodlands environments in “the Mammal Book’, a 58-page booklet featuring beautiful photographs and informative text: The Mammal Book - GB CMA - Goulburn Broken CMA

Photos: Sugar Gliders by Russell Jones