Introduction: Any person looking for a unique and interesting pet may want to consider the sugar glider, but you may have a few questions. This informational webpage will hopefully help beginners and keepers alike.
These endearing little animals have become quite popular as pets in the United States. Simply seeing these cute little animals for the first time can turn virtually anyone into a raving sugar glider fan!
The qualities these little guys posses, such as being intelligent, playful, and inquisitive, create interest in virtually all animal lovers. The care of the sugar glider as a pet is not quite as demanding as many of the other more unusual creatures kept by pet owners. Odor is rarely an issue. Concerns over unusual diet and immunizations are nothing to fear; sugar gliders do not require shots, and their diet in captivity is quite readily available or can be produced from one of several recipes.
As with the responsibility of keeping any pet, the sugar gliders do have a set of requirements that must be met for the animals to thrive. They even reproduce in captivity. Fortunately, these requirements can be met by almost anyone and without great expense.
The information about keeping these unique little marsupials has grown immensely in the last decade. The first creatures to come into the United States as pets were imported from the islands of Indonesia, as Australia does not allow export of their animals. From this humble beginning, the data base of information on the health and well being of the sugar glider and how to maximize both the animals enjoyment as well as the pet owners understanding, has grown to rival that of virtually any other domestic pet. While we are still continuously learning new things, the current level of captive care knowledge is fantastic!
Natural History Referred to as possums in their native Australia, the sugar glider actually resembles our North American flying squirrel in outward appearance. Their native range includes much of the north, and north east portions of Australia. The glider has also been introduced to Tasmania and has established a stable population.
The Latin name ,Petaurus breviceps, is a reference to their skull shape and climbing ability. The glider possess a large flap of skin that connects the fifth finger and their body. When opened, this skin flap acts as a controllable parachute as the animal literally glides between tree branches. Found living in family units of up to 20 individuals, the gliders will share a communal nest.
The body weight of the glider is remarkably light. Adults often weigh less than 5 ounces. The life expectancy in the wild is believed to be about 7 years, although, this number is in question due primarily to a lack of extensive field data to support an actual number. Predators include pythons, birds of prey, and monitor lizards among others.
Housing Adequate housing for any pet is one of the first considerations in determining whether or not the creature is a fit for your situation. Sugar gliders are active, social creatures, who should be kept in pairs at a minimum. Keeping in mind their natural arboreal nature, the glider enclosure should be as tall and large as your situation will allow. Typically large bird cages intended for finches or parakeets make an excellent start along the path to adequately housing your gliders. Cleaning should be one of your first considerations. Your ability to easily maintain the cage will have a direct bearing on how often it is cleaned. Choosing an enclosure with a large door opening and easily removable bottom pan will allow for ease of cleaning of not only the cage itself but of any cage decorations you may have placed in the enclosure to enhance your gliders living experience.
A fact often overlooked when considering these little forest creatures is the fact that the sugar glider is a highly nocturnal creature. When you are sleeping, they will be at play, so keeping a cage in your bedroom is probably not a good idea!
Being almost strictly arboreal in the wild, your glider is an adept climber. Providing natural or artificial climbing surfaces enhances both the aesthetic look of your enclosure as well as your gliders enjoyment of their home. Many options exist for creating climbing surfaces; natural branches, artificial vines, and even rope will provide hours of enjoyment to your gliders.
Certain considerations should be made for any items removed from natural places, such as your back yard, or a local forest. Tree or bush branches can easily be used and make for very natural looking climbing surfaces, but caution should be taken to avoid introducing unwanted pests, such as ticks, spiders, etc. Your glider may consume any insects that come in on the branches, so exercise caution when introducing items from outdoors that no foliage or branch surface contains garden herbicides or pesticides. Additionally, any houseplants such as Ficus trees, etc. should be free of pesticides and should not be toxic; a list of toxic plants is available on this page.
Caution should also be taken when introducing man made items, such as artificial foliage. Your glider may want to chew on these surfaces and may inadvertently ingest plastic or other material that may cause serious complications. Simply observe your glider to ensure whatever enclosure decorations you are using are suitable and are accepted by your gliders.
Generally the food container provided with the bird cage will be adequate to use as a food bowl. If you wish to utilize larger containers for multiple gliders, choose a ceramic style bowl, as they are heavy enough not to be tipped over and are easily sterilized. Water can be provided using a small animal water bottle found in virtually all pet shops, as well as Wal-Mart etc. Hanging the water bottle on the outside of the enclosure, with the nipple protruding through the bars into the animals space, is the preferred method. This will allow easy access to change the water daily.
Environmental considerations include suitable temperature and humidity factors to ensure your gliders will be happy and healthy. Gliders will generally be comfortable at the same temperature range people are; 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit will provide comfortable living conditions. Avoid extreme heat or cold. The natural range of the sugar glider puts them in generally tropical environments; temperatures below 59 degrees can begin to cause serious problems for your animals. Basking spots that keep the temperature on the warm end will be readily used by your gliders; they are tropical animals and as such are used to a temperature range on the high end.
One extremely important component of any glider habitat is the nesting or sleeping box. In the wild gliders spend much of their time in a small dark space that keeps them safe from natural predators, as a result of this natural behavior, your gliders will need a similar space to feel comfortable. Bird nesting boxes can make an excellent space for your gliders, as can any number of "boxes" that may be plastic, glass, or virtually any other material that can be easily cleaned. Our experience has been that plastic is easiest to clean and sterilize. This ,however, is purely a personal matter, any space that is safe and secure is acceptable to your glider. Your only real consideration is access to the inside of the space; if the container is not accessible, you may have a very difficult time adequately cleaning the nest box.
Providing nesting material that your glider can carry into the box is also a matter of personal preference, with the understanding that natural or man-made fibrous material such as cotton rags etc, will become soiled over time. By periodically providing your glider with fresh nesting material, we have found the gliders themselves will perform some normal housekeeping that will assist you in their maintenance.
Diet Experts agree that the natural diet of wild sugar gliders varies greatly by both season and habitat. The wide natural range of this marsupial means that certain species of both plants and insects found in its habitat varies by geography and time of year. Certain common needs must be met for your gliders to thrive, fortunately they are simple to meet.
Ongoing changes to the opinion of how much protein should be fed to gliders is an indication of how much is yet to be learned. It is important to remember that the Federal government has changed the food pyramid, indicating what people should eat no less than three times in the last 5 years! It is probably safe to say there is just a tad more research done on what people should eat vs. the amount of research done on what sugar gliders should eat. If our own experts are confused and disagree with what we should eat, it is safe to say that you will get a myriad of opinions on what to feed your glider.
The recommendations of what the diet of captive sugar gliders should be has undergone changes and will undoubtedly undergo more! Our opinion is that you should simply try your best to be diverse in what the gliders are offered for food, and watch the animals for any physical changes that would cause concern. A healthy glider will generally look like a healthy glider.
By all definitions the gliders are omnivorous. In the wild gliders forage for food on and around the trunks of trees; as their name would imply, they are fond of sweet food items such as natural sugars found in sap etc. Fruit is readily taken as well as green vegetation. Insects found in and under the bark of the trees comprise a large portion, maybe up to 40%, of the food taken daily by wild gliders. In an effort to closely match, and even improve on, the wild diet your gliders should be fed an eclectic mix of both fruits and vegetables, with a healthy dose of protein.
The fruit and vegetables we provide our gliders varies by season but is generally comprised of the following:
Keeping in mind that any creature will have preferences, it is important to remember to provide the creatures with what they need not just what they want. Your gliders may prefer bananas over all other fruit, but make sure you cause them to eat other foods by limiting the amount of "favorite" foods.
Protein is the other component of a healthy diet; we provide our gliders with several forms of protein to keep the meals both diverse and interesting for the creatures. The following forms of protein are commonly fed to our gliders:
Vitamin supplements are used to provide the required trace elements and to ensure the proper amount of calcium is provided. Like many captive animals, calcium deficiencies can be debilitating or fatal to your glider. We provide calcium using Osteoform, a supplement generally available at feed stores as a supplement to horses, many other powdered forms of calcium are available and will work just fine. The reptile department of your local pet store will carry several forms of powdered calcium for lizards etc. Simply choose one you like and following the instructions on the package, use caution not to over do any vitamin supplement. To much of a good thing is a bad thing!
Breeding Sooner or later the desire to see cute little baby sugar gliders is overwhelming. The fact that you are keeping pairs of gliders for their social well being is eventually going to lead to mother nature taking over and there will be little ones in the house! A little forethought and planning will go a long way to ensuring the stork arrives with happy healthy little babies!
As is the case with all marsupials, the mother will give birth to live babies, usually one but occasionally two, after a very brief gestation of only 15 days. The very small babies will make their way into the pouch on the mothers belly. Approximately 60 days later you will begin to see the little ones moving out on their own. Reminiscent of the kangaroo, the baby gliders will begin to emerge a little more each day and will still seek out the nipple and security of moms pouch for at least another 30-40 days. Once the weaning process begins, the babies will be observed eating solid food. From a preparation perspective it is imperative to ensure that the female glider has been provided with adequate calcium to prevent loss of calcium from her bones to produce the babies. Providing adequate calcium to adult gliders is imperative, but pregnant females in particular should be provided with proper amounts of this element.
Being social creatures there is no need to remove the male from the enclosure. When the babies are weaned, the only real concern is inbreeding with the male and related offspring. Aggression between males and females is often sorted out with a few chirps and barks. Females in particular seem to be very vocal creatures. Males are easily distinguished from females by the bald spot, which is actually a scent gland, located on the top of the head.
If you wish to continue to expand your colony of gliders it is highly recommended you seek out other glider owners in your area and trade babies with them to ensure genetic diversity. A relationship with your local pet shop may be very beneficial in this instance, trading juvenile Sugar Gliders is beneficial to both parties!
Sugar Glider Health Care
While sugar gliders are generally free from most health problems, it is important to be prepared and monitor a few potential issues. If your glider has been fed a well rounded and balanced diet chances are very good you will not have to worry about vitamin or mineral concerns, however, the importance of a complete diet is not always addressed.
Calcium Deficiency (MBD)
This is the single most important mineral in your gliders diet. If problems arise in gliders, it is often concerning calcium. Veterinarians often refer to MBD, or metabolic bone disease. This is the technical term for the lack of calcium in your sugar gliders bones.
Your glider will appear to limp or otherwise have difficulty moving. This difficulty can even manifest itself in paralysis. The deficiency can occur in both male and female gliders but is most often seen in females who have given birth. The need for calcium in the developing babies can actually rob the female of her needed calcium.
As with any animal, over-eating can cause very serious health issues. It is important to remember that if your glider was living in the wild it would have to find food on its own. In captivity we simply place food at the animals disposal with no physical effort involved on the part of the animal. This can lead to over eating; a glider who is over fed will obviously be pudgy. Being over weight can take its toll on the animals organs and significantly shorten the life of your glider.
Use care not to over feed or under feed. Common sense should be your guide as you monitor the amount of food your animal is taking in.
In the wild your glider would be extremely active in climbing on surfaces that would promote the reduction of the animals nails. The surfaces of the enclosure you keep you glider in may not be rough enough to help keep the nails trimmed.
Have someone help you restrain the glider while you gently trim off the very leading edge of each nail. Try your best to reduce the stress on the animal by starting this practice early in the little gliders life.
Using common household nail trimmers intended for babies is the safest way to adequately remove the leading edge of the nail.
One natural way to encourage nail trimming is to provide rough perches intended for use by parrots and other large cage birds. The best perches for this purpose are made of a dense concrete like material. These rough perches can often be purchased at your local pet store. By encouraging your glider to climb these various perches you may never need to address the issue of nail trimming.
Mealworms are the larval stages of a common darkling beetle and are pests of flour, meal, grain and related products. They vary in size from the very small, newly hatched worms to full grown larvae that are approximately an inch long.
These worms may be easily raised at home by following a few suggestions.
An initial supply may be obtained from dealers or found in feed, grain, or meal in a barn or feed room. A wooden box or box eight to ten inches deep, twenty four inches long and eighteen inches wide makes a satisfactory rearing container. This box should be half-filled with fine meal or flour to which some middlings or bran is added. A few scraps of cloth or wrinkled paper will assist in preventing the meal from packing too solidly.
Proper ventilation and a fairly even temperature are essential to prevent mold growth. Cheese cloth tied over the tray will provide ventilation while preventing the escape of the adult beetles. A two inch strip of sheet metal should be securely nailed to the inside walls of the tray above the food mixture to prevent the insects from crawling over the side.
Some moisture is necessary. This may be best provided by the addition of some moist foods such as pieces of raw potatoes, carrots, ripe apples or banana peels. These should be placed on the surface of the mixture and slightly dampened every few days.
After the tray has been prepared and mealworms added, the tray should remain undisturbed for several weeks to allow the worms to develop. The larger worms will then have changed into the pale, quiet stage which later changes into the adult. The colony should then be prepared for expansion. A little bran may be sprinkled on the surface of the mixture and a few pieces of apple and carrot added followed by a second sprinkling of bran. A close watch should be kept for several weeks until a number of adult beetles appear.
Another tray should then be provided, prepared with the same food mixture as in the first. The adults should be placed in this tray to lay eggs for more young worms. As soon as these young worms have grown sufficiently to be handled they should be put in the first tray and allowed to grow as large as desired. By using a two tray system, one should be able to provide a continuous supply of worms.
The food mixtures must be discarded, the trays cleaned and scoured, and a freshly prepared food mixture put in occasionally for the successful rearing of the worms. Old food mixtures will become foul unless occasionally changed.
Toxic Plants In the event you wish to use live plants in your Sugar Glider enclosure it is important to remember that some plants can be toxic to animals. The following is a list intended to help you avoid some of the more commonly available plants that you may encounter at your local grocery store or home center. There are other toxic plants that are less commonly available in garden centers and nurseries, we highly recommend you do a little research on any live plant that will be introduced to your gliders enclosure.