The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a small, omnivorous, arboreal, and nocturnal gliding possum belonging to the marsupial infraclass, originating from Australia, New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, also introduced in Tasmania in the 1830s.
The sugar glider measures about 16 to 20 cm, it has a tail slightly longer than the body, and weighs 90 to 190 grams. Its coat can have several variations of colors (classic gray, black beauty, white face, white tip, leucistic, cremeino, mosaic, ringtail, cow ears, ruby leu and platinum to name a few) and the price varies greatly according to color variation and rarity (between $375 and $1000). The tail is tapered and bushy, the muzzle is rounded and short, the eyes are large, dark and vary in color (black, ruby or red). This little marsupial can live 12 to 15 years in captivity with good care and a well balanced diet.
However, the most remarkable feature of the sugar glider is the two patagiums (membranes) from the fifth finger of the front limb to the first toe of the hind limb : they are perfectly invisible when the animal is at rest and simply give the impression that it has lost some weight. You can immediately see the patagiums, when the sugar glider takes off. In their natural habitat, sugar gliders use their patagiums to glide from tree to tree. When deployed, they form an aerodynamic surface the size of a large handkerchief. The sugar glider doesn't really fly but can glide over distances up to 50 meters!
The term marsupial means that babies (1 to 2 per litter, rarely 3) are born embryos (after 16 days of gestation), migrate into the ventral pouch of their mother, attach to one of the four teats and develop in the pouch until maturity, about 65-70 days. Koalas, kangaroos, wombats, more well-known marsupials, develop in the same way as sugar gliders, in a maternal ventral pouch. Babies marsupial are called joey and their date of birth is usually determined by the date they are no longer attached to their mother's teats, even though they are OOP for a few days (OOP date - out of pouch date).
In addition to a lower body temperature (89°F~32°C) than so-called "placental" mammals, marsupials also have a very different anatomy from other mammals. Like birds, they have a cloaca, a multifunctional orifice, which serves them to defecate, urinate, mate and give birth to little joeys. The female has a heat cycle at 29 days, has two vaginas, two uteruses, one vertical ventral pouch and four teats, while the male has an anterior scrotum above the penis, a double bifid penis (such as the tongue of a snake), located in the cloaca and which has no urinary function but strictly reproductive. The male also has glands on his head, neck and near the cloaca that serve him to identify himself, mark his family, as well as his territory. The male participates actively in the care of his female and his little joeys until their complete weaning, between 8 and 10 weeks after their exit from the ventral maternal pouch.
The sugar glider as a pet
The first thing to consider before engaging in the adoption of a sugar glider is the lifestyle and expectations of the adopting parent. Knowing the longevity of a sugar glider (between 12 and 15 years old), you must be sure to offer a stable home, free of intense stress, proper care, well balanced diet, daily playtime to this precious little animal. The sugar glider is not a rodent and requires specific nutritional needs. Endowed of a great intelligence, he needs interaction with a sugar glider buddy, attention from humans, toys and daily playtime periods, otherwise he risks becoming depressed and can start to self-mutilate. The prospective adoptive parents must be aware of the long-term commitment of this adoption and willing to invest time for their little one.
There should also be time given for cage cleaning and puree preparation. A good hint is to make a large quantity at a time and freeze it in ice cube trays. To clean the cage, it is recommended to proceed by steps and not to clean everything on the same day.The sugar glider marks its territory with its odor and will do overtime for marking, if you clean the cage and all accessories at the same time.For the deep cleaning, a gentle dish soap and hot water is used once a week for the cage and accessories cleaning. Once in a while, a mix of 2/3 water, 1/3 white vinegar + 15 drops of eucalyptus essential oil, mixed in a spray bottle, can be used for a quick cage and accessories cleaning. NEVER spray this mix on your sugar glider!
To reduce the cleaning time, the use of a "kitchen" is recommended to put the meal dishes in.The "kitchen" is made with a large plastic container in which you will have drilled 2-3 holes (2,5 to 3 inches) using a drill and a hole saw.The edges of the holes must be sanded to soften the contour and avoid injuries.
Time should also be taken to trim the nail tips with a slant tip nail clipper and a nail trimming pouch, which reduces the risk of injury to small fingers during nail trimming. A nail trimming kit can also be installed on the exercise wheel to lengthen the time between nail trimming. It is very important to examine your sugar glider's small fingers every day to detect any signs of irritation caused by the nail trimming kit.
Adoption also incurs significant expenses, including a cage of a minimum of 3 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft with a maximum spacing of 1/2 inch between the bars, necessary for the safety of the animal. A good-sized exercise wheel with a plastic mesh racing surface, safe toys, sleeping pouch, dish, ingredients to prepare the homemade puree, high quality dry food, will also to be consider at the time of buying your pet. Your sugar glider also requires an ambient temperature between 21°C et 23°C. You must also provide a babysitter or a pension to your little one if you go on vacation!
Sugar gliders are colony animals with a very elaborate language and endowed with a very great intelligence, comparable to that of a dog. They need interaction and should preferably be kept with a buddy sugar glider. In their natural habitat, sugar gliders live in groups of 7 to 15 individuals. The sugar glider performs a multitude of different sounds to communicate with others and also with humans. It is a very playful animal, very curious but especially very faithful, once it is in confidence. As soon as the "bonding" step has succeded and the trust is built, the sugar glider can then demonstrate all its funny features that makes it such an exceptional pocket animal. It loves to play like a kitten, run after a piece of rope, hit toys with his paws and nibble it. He can bark or whistle to have attention, demonstrate affection marks like "kisses", cuddles, licking, purring, gliding to his owner when called by his name, and so on. Your little glider will surprise you as only he knows how to do so.
Preparing for your sugar glider's arrival at home See pictures slideshow at the bottom for examples on the topics covered
A cage of a minimum of 36 inches (H) x 24 inches (W) x 24 inches (D) with a MAXIMAL spacing of 1/2 inch between bars, will be mandatory for your pet's safety. The larger the cage will be, the happier your sugar glider will be. The cage must be a sturdy construction, made in height instead of width, with large doors, without small sliding doors like those found on bird aviaries and the doors must be equipped with a good locking system. The cage must also be free of grill shelves or ladders and wood climbing posts, which could hurt the patagiums of your little acrobat or inflict splinters on the paws. The cage finish must be wrought iron animal-safe finish or stainless steel, anti-rust, easy to clean and the most important, paint free! A removable bottom grill and drawer will greatly help for cleaning and maintenance. A cage equipped with a support on heavy rolling wheels with accessory shelf will also be very useful. A cage cover (fleece or polyethylene) will also be very useful to avoid air drafts, keep the temperature stable, soften light too bright and limit the mess during meals.
For the bottom of the cage, it is possible to use a fleece fabric or polyethylene fabric that can be washed easily, paper towels, or Fresh & Comfy (in pet stores). Never put a training pad for puppies, cat litter, wood chips or newspapers that are toxic to them and chewed chunks could lead to choking hazard or cause intestinal obstruction. With cages equiped with a removable drawer, the best thing is to put nothing at all in the drawer.This makes it easier to rinse the drawer once a day for an easy, odor-free maintenance!
A large exercise wheel is necessary to your sugar glider so that he spends his too much energy at night. A safe approved sugar glider wheel must be used. The wheel must have a polyethylene (HDPE), PVC or plastic mesh surface (1/2 "max. openings) and NO central axle that could tear the sugar glider's patagiums or injure permanently its tail or back. The wheel should be washed on a regular basis, as your little one will certainly mess it. The wheel may be on a floor stand or securely attached to the cage. The wheel must also be installed in the cage so that a minimum 3-inch space is clear all around the wheel (top, bottom and sides) to prevent injury during play time, because your little one will run as much inside as outside the wheel. Never use a metallic, painted, smooth plastic, with central axle or small holes in which claws could get stuck. Remember that no wheel, sold in pet stores, is safe for sugar gliders!
Bottle of water
A bottle of water is necessary for your little one to have clean water at all times. The water must be changed daily and the bottle well washed before filling with fresh water. Glass bottles are preferable to plastic bottles that can be chewed and perforated by small teeth. In addition, glass bottles can be sterilized in the dishwasher once a week. As a precaution, it is also recommended to put a bird plastic waterer, in case a bottle does not work properly. Make sure that the bottle and bird waterer do not leak and that the control ball works properly by gently tapping it to allow a little amount of water to drip.
Bowl and Dish
For the dish, small porcelain ramekins found in dollar stores are perfect! They are heavy enough to avoid pouring on the side, they are easy to clean, are not porous to trap bacteria and can contain a good amount of food. Baby's plastic section plates are also ideal for separating the diet, fruits / vegetables and treats.
Plastic toy balls (without gingle bell, NO catnip beacause TOXIC), braided fleece with teething rings, fleece toys, 3mm plastic chain toys, acrylic or plastic charms, small plastic toys for babies, cats or puppies. Toys must be secured to the cage and any toy's opening (basket, chains or other) must be 1/2 "and less OR 2.25" and more. Remember: no opening between 1/2 inch and 2.25 inch should be found in the cage and on any toy, because your little one will surely get stuck in it and could die. No toy with metal, glue, rope or wood should be used beacause unsafe. Plush toys are unsafe for sugar gliders that will eventually empty the plush out and eat the stuffing inside. Use only under supervision and then remove the plush. Toys should never contain any fabric other than anti-pill or blizzard fleece, no satin, wool or other unsafe fabric. Plastic chains and acrylic charms must be free from small plastic nobs or sharp edges that may injure small sensitive paws.
Hanging toys should NEVER be supported only by the toy's rubber, especially if the toy bears a weight. The 3mm plastic chain must therefore pass through the rubber toy and be securely attached to the plastic base with a nylon zip tie. Large plastic C-Links or 3mm plastic chains attached with a nylon zip tie are strong enough to support a suspended toy. Mini links made of plastic should only bear a charm and nothing more and should NEVER support a larger weight than a charm! Any suspended object (plastic cup, bracelet, toy, etc.), other than an acrylic charm, must be supported a large plastic C-Link, a 3mm chain link or a nylon zip tie, NEVER by a plastic mini link alone.
Pay attention to feathers and pompons that should be used under supervision only. Watch out for sharp objects or too small toys or beads. Drinking straws, silicone spiky pompoms, fleece pompoms, plastic easter eggs, rubber toys and plastic bracelets (2.25 "or more) are the best toys ever for sugar gliders, who love to manipulate small objects and tail carry objects. The Rule of thumb: all cage items and toys must be checked on a regular basis for any damage that would make the item unsafe and could cause a sad and often fatal accident.
Sleeping pouches, hammocks and hiding places
Sugar gliders love to hide and sleep in a warm leece pouch, a small plastic container, a PVC pipe or a mini plastic trash can in which you have put pieces of fleece. Always use safe fabrics such as fleece. Any fabric that is likely to stuck small claws should be avoided. Fleece cage sets should only contain fabric and plastic C-links, and never have metal eyelet or metal fasteners, that will eventually rust, zipper or velcro. You can install fleece pouches, hammocks, 3" PVC pipe, opaque plastic container with a lid in which a 2.5-inch diameter hole is made, plastic baskets, ball pits, small plastic trash can with lids, etc. Use only safe materials and fleece as fabric. For sewed items, make sure that the seams are hidden (except the returning hole), made of very thight small straight stitches, so that a toothpick cannot go under a stitch and that there is no loose thread. In addition, all fabric items must be checked after each wash and on a regular basis to detect any damage that would make the item unsafe.
Ambient temperature and environment
Sugar gliders need to be in a lively place where they can satisfy their need for attention and great curiosity. Putting the cage in a bedroom is not recommended since the sugar glider is VERY active at night. The room should be kept between 21°C et 23°C. If necessary, a 60 Watt ceramic heater that does not emit light can be installed outside the cage, not in contact with the cage mesh, and the electric wire MUST be put OUT of the reach of your little curious who might chew it. NEVER put heating rocks, heating cushions or heated pads for reptiles in your sugar glider's cage to avoid burns and/or electrocution. Avoid placing the cage in a sun-flooded room because sugar gliders has very light-sensitive eyes, so never forget that it is a nocturnal animal! Never spray your sugar glider with any cleanser or deodorant, do not place your cage in a air draft and never give your sugar glider a bath because it could easily fall into hypothermia or contract pneumonia often fatal for these small animals.
Pay particular attention to the water access in the house because sugar gliders can not swim and will drown for sure. Always close the toilet lid, protect access to aquariums, sinks, bath, etc. Never use Glade diffusers, scented candles or similar items in the house, as these products contain formaldehyde and substances that are very toxic to sugar gliders. An air purifier can be installed as needed in the room where your little one is. Never smoke in presence of your little sugar glider. Smoking under the kitchen hood or outdoors will be much better for its health.
For play time, a room such as a bathroom or a play tent is preferable to rooms full of dangers for your little one. Watch for electrical wires, doors, trinkets, couch cushions and little nooks where your little one could get stuck or hurt. Always keep in mind that sugar gliders are very intelligent, very curious, very exploratory and should be considered as 1 year old baby who look everywhere and touch everything without realizing the potential danger. It is therefore necessary to be overprotective and pro-active to evaluate anything that could be risky in a room before leaving your sugar glider free.