What’s soft, furry, friendly, and loves to ride around in your pocket? There are quite a few pets that might fit that description, but if we add “has big eyes and carries its babies in a pouch like a kangaroo,”the only answer would be: a sugar glider!
The sugar glider is known to scientists as Petaurus breviceps, which means roughly “short-headed rope walker,”a reference to the ease with which the animal negotiates through the tangle of tiny branches and twigs high in its forest habitat home. However, this animal is much more agile and acrobatic than the nimblest human tightrope artist.
At first glance, a sugar glider looks like a rodent—a squirrel or a flying squirrel. You’d never guess that he was a relative of koalas and kangaroos, or even of the common opossum! Yet a sugar glider is in fact a marsupial from Australasia (Australia, New Guinea, and surrounding islands).
Sugar gliders are tree-dwelling animals found in Australia, New Guinea, and many of the surrounding islands.
Perfect Pocket Pets?
Pocket pets describe any of the small mammals often kept as pets, including hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, and guinea pigs. Sugar gliders are also considered pocket pets. These small mammals with plush, soft fur are not as common as hamsters or gerbils, but they are becoming more and more popular all the time—and for good reason! In fact, a glider might just be the perfect pet for you. This book will provide all the details to help you decide if it is. It is very important that you understand that gliders are not like mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, and other pocket pets. These very special, cuddly animals from the other side of the world have very special needs and provide very special rewards. Before we look at what a sugar glider is, let’s consider what a sugar glider isn’t.
A Sugar Glider Is Not a Rodent
Although they could easily be mistaken for rodents, sugar gliders are not rodents. There are close to 10,000 species of rodents in the world, and they are found in just about every habitat. Many are considered vermin, and many have spread across the globe with the human population. Since rodents encompass so many species, exceptions always exist, but generally rodents are small, secretive, and omnivorous. They are characterized by short gestation periods, rapid growth and maturity, significant fecundity, and short lifespans. For example, hamster babies are born 16 days after the parents mate, and the young can be ready to mate less than two months after birth. The number of babies in a single litter is usually about eight but can be up to 20. A female may have five or more litters per year. If all the offspring lived, a single female hamster could have thousands of descendants within a year. A hamster’s lifespan is only a couple of years or so.
Such rapid growth and reproduction is typical of rodents. Baby hamsters are born naked, blind, and helpless; but in a few days, they have fur, and at a week they begin to walk around, explore, and even eat solid food. Their eyes open at two weeks of age, and they are weaned in another week or two.
So, What Is a Sugar Glider?
Sugar gliders, too, are small, secretive, and omnivorous, but because they are marsupials (which we’ll discuss in a moment), their growth and reproduction is quite slow, and they have a lifespan much more like that of a dog or a cat—about 15 years.
Glider litters are small—usually producing only one or two babies, although there can be up to four—and the young take a long time to grow, not venturing from the nest until they are about four months old. There is some variation, but sexual maturity is reached usually between six and eighteen months of age. In the wild, a female will have two or three litters per year. A single female glider typically has fewer than a dozen descendants in a year. Thus, despite many similarities to rodents, sugar gliders are markedly different in their life cycles.
Other common names for these adorable animals are flying possum, flying phalanger, honey glider, lesser flying phalanger, short-headed flying phalanger, and squirrel glider. The name “phalanger,”which is applied to the sugar glider and many of its close relatives, refers to their long fingers (phalanges). But, why all those “flying”names?
Family-Friendly Tip Are Sugar Gliders for Your Child?
The concept of a “pocket pet”typically brings to mind mice, rats, hamsters, and gerbils. These rodents can make excellent companions for a responsible young person and will, in fact, enjoy riding around in the child’s pocket. While sugar gliders are perhaps the perfect pocket pets in this respect and will gladly snuggle in a pocket all day, young children should not be trusted with their care and handling. In fact, given its long lifespan and its habit of deeply bonding with its owner, a sugar glider is perhaps a better pet for an adult. It may be best for the parents of a young child to adopt a glider as a pet and let the child “help”take care of him. The child can assume progressively more responsibility over the years and wind up with a faithful friend that will accompany her right into young adulthood.