- A multi-level enclosure with a variety of climbing structures can help provide exercise.
- In the wild, sugar gliders eat sap, blossoms, nectar, insects, and small invertebrates.
- In captivity, sugar gliders are fed baby juice, sugar glider biscuits, crickets, mealworms, fruits, and vegetables.
Notes on Enrichment & Training
- Commercially available “snuggle sacks” work to familiarize the glider with the scent of a new handler.
- At the Baton Rouge Zoo we have trained our gliders to wear a harness for presentations. We use a variety of reinforcers such as mealworms, sugar glider nectar, or pieces of favorite food.
- Other reinforcers; yogurt or grape juice via syringe, hard boiled egg and dried cranberries
Colony or Breeding Management
Tips on Presentation
- Presenting in clear containers like “Kritter Keepers” with climbing opportunities for display has been successful if handlers aren’t comfortable with presenting in the hand. For example, Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park uses a cylidrical mesh pop-up cage.
- Sugar gliders also do well with being presented on a branch or stick, held by either one or both ends by the presenter. This allows them to demonstrate climbing behavior while keeping them visible for the audience.
Tips on Handling
- This species is small and fast moving which can be a challenge for animal handlers.
- If handled frequently and gently, some individuals have worked well in hand for program use.
- This species has a high incidence of biting handlers. Using gloves may be an option but gloves also seem to make some individuals more nervous when being handled.
- Some facilities have trained gliders to glide from the hand to a perch (i.e., Chattanooga Zoo).
- The snuggle sack mentioned above allows for public viewing while making the animal feel more comfortable. The bag can be opened and turned back to show the animal.
- Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Save-Wildlife/Images/PetWalletBro2012.aspx http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/pets/index.html
Comments from the Rating System
- Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park: Non-touchable (because they bite), but very popular. We display in a cylindrical mesh pop-up cage.
- Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: We have a brother/sister combo of sugar gliders who are housed well together. Our male is very overweight (came to us large) and the female was underweight. We were successful with putting weight on the female but are still working on a healthy weight for the male (slight decrease, but still obese). The female is still undergoing handling training by our senior handlers since she is very skittish but the male excelled right away with handling. We handle using leather gloves which he does not mind. He is allowed to climb on the handlers arms (over the neck to the other arm) and jump from one handler to the other (still working on this due to the weight issue he doesn’t feel comfortable jumping off but will stretch from one handler to the other). He is not allowed to go inside our clothing or onto our heads, but he can go on our backs as long as he holds on. He is very food motivated so we started training by using his diet and now he is fine without food. He is very well behaved and has not bitten anyone yet (we’ve had him about 2 years now). He is fairly young and very curious so loves to investigate new smells whenever being handled. We also put him in our hedgehog ball (ferret ball) for exercise sometimes which he doesn’t mind, but doesn’t love. He is no contact for the public (neither of them) and staff always have to wear gloves when handling them. Our handling staff and volunteers all seem inclined to want to handle them and they are at the more advanced level, so it’s a good incentive for them to put in the time on the lower animals to be able to handle these as a “reward”. Audiences regardless of size always enjoy these animals and educational messages are easy to convey. We’ll talk about biodiversity, pet trade, nocturnal animals, among other topics. There are a lot to do and it depends on the audience age what is ideal for your group.
- Henry Vilas Zoo: I believe that the audience value for this species depends on how tractable the animals are; good example of a marsupial; very small, so hard for large audiences to see; ours are non-contact for the public.
- Maryland Zoo in Baltimore: Requires social groupings and a very specific diet.
- Oakland Zoo: We have limited experience with this species, but I feel that the show factor is low.
- Philadelphia Zoo: Small, fast moving, hard for inexperienced handlers, tendency to bite.
- Pittsburgh Zoo: They came in as previously unhandled adults and were exceptionally difficult to handle for programs. We designed a special container to display them in for classes.
- Toledo Zoo: When I have had more than one together, they have not been good program animals.
- Zoo New England, Stone Zoo: Can bite and easily escape a handler.
Natural History Information
Range and Habitat
Sugar gliders are native to New Guinea and nearby islands, the Bismark archipelago, and north and east Australia.
The fine and silky fur is generally grayish up top with paler underparts. There is a dark stripe that runs from the nose to the rump, and through the eye to the ear. The head and body is 120 to 320 mm long, and the tail is another 150 to 480 mm. Average weight is 90 to 130 grams. There are gliding membranes (patagium) connecting the front and hind limbs.
Sugar gliders nest in groups of 7 to 10 adults with their young. Breeding can and does occur year round, as long as the diet is sufficient in protein. After a gestation period of 16 days, a litter of 1 or 2 young are born. At birth, the young weigh only 0.19 grams. They crawl into their mother’s pouch and attach to a nipple to continue growing. Young will release the nipple after 40 days, and will leave the pouch at about 70 days. They will stay in the nest until they gain independence at about 111 days old.
In the wild, sugar gliders live for 5 to 7 years. In captivity, up to 15 days.
In the wild, sugar gliders can become very territorial. They depend on eucalyptus trees for food and shelter, so groups of sugar gliders will defend their area against other groups of sugar gliders. Territories spread over several acres of land. In each colony, there is an alpha male; he will control the other males in the group and also ward off predators.
Threats and Conservation Status
Despite the massive loss of natural habitat in Australia over the last 200 years, sugar gliders are not endangered. They are very adaptable creatures and are capable of surviving in very small patches of remnant bush, particularly if they do not have to cross large expanses of clear-felled land to reach them.
Did you know…
- Sugar gliders were illegally introduced as pets in America in the late 1980s.
- In Australia, it is illegal to capture, sell, or keep sugar gliders as pets without a license, because they are a native species. However, sugar gliders are not difficult to breed in captivity, so small numbers of sugar gliders have been legally exported to America to form a breeding population for sale as pets.
- In certain jurisdictions, such as Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, and Alaska, it is illegal to keep sugar gliders. Other states require pet owners to get a permit.
Contributors and Citations
Top Photo: By The original uploader was Dawson at English Wikipedia. – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26067939
- The Philadelphia Zoo
- Notes from comments gathered from completed PARIS rating sheets
- Baton Rouge Zoo
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters