Sugar Gliders (Petaurus brevicep) are native to Southern, Eastern and Northern Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia. They were introduced into Tasmania in the 1800’s. These animals are arboreal where they live in treetops.
Baby Sugar Gliders are about the size of a grain of rice when they are born. Baby sugar gliders spend the first few weeks of their lives in their mother’s pouch like a Kangaroo or Koala Bear. Because of this unique start to life, sugar gliders are classified as marsupials, not rodents like the similarly resembling flying squirrel.
Sugar Gliders and flying squirrels do look amazingly similar. But, are they the same thing? Flying squirrels and sugar gliders are only distantly related. So why do they look so similar then? Their gliding “wings” and big eyes are analogous structures. Natural selection and/or evolution adapted both lineages for similar lifestyles such as leaping from treetops and foraging throughout the night.
Sugar Gliders can be very vocal pets. The noises that a sugar glider makes are usually to tell you that they are upset, frightened, hungry, or to express other emotions. “Crabbing” is the most often heard sound of an upset glider and this audible warning should be heeded or you may be in for a bite. The bites are hard but do not cause bleeding.
Sugar Gliders are quick, love to climb, will glide from place to place if space allows it. This animal is nocturnal and likes to cuddle up in a nest during the day to sleep.
Two of the Sugar Gliders toes on both back feet are fused together (known as syndactyly) to form a grooming comb. While the front paws are more like a hand. They have opposable thumbs allowing them to grip and hold on to things.
As far as I know, the Sugar Glider cannot be potty trained. With that said, their bed does not smell. And the animal keeps itself very clean.
Also known as sugar bears, this exotic is named from the food they eat and their particular mode of transportation.
Their namesake diet includes nectar and sap from trees and they are often seen gliding between branches using unique flaps of skin called patagium. ‘
Sugar gliders patagium stretches from the wrists to the ankles and allows them to glide up to 100m from tree to tree.
Food & Water
Sugar gliders are omnivorous, so in addition to the nectar and sap, they will also eat both plant material and meat including fruit, insects, and even small birds or rodents.
In the wild, a Sugar bear’s diet consists of roughly 75% gums, saps, and nectars taken from different kinds of plants and trees. The other 25% is protein requirement and is primarily satisfied by seasonal consumption of pollen grains, insects and other arthropods.
In fact, in the wild, even baby bird or bird eggs are occasionally consumed.
Meeting both the relatively unknown nutritional requirements of the species, while encouraging naturalistic feeding behaviors utilizing available ingredients, can be a challenge in any captive feeding program with exotic species.
Concurrently, a number of health conditions with likely nutritional involvement are reported in captive sugar gliders. Pet sugar gliders have fairly strict dietary requirements.
The ideal diet for a sugar glider is still a widely debated topic but more and more research has been done over the years to determine some of the best options for pet owners. Dietary imbalances from inappropriate calcium and phosphorous ratios are common but are thankfully easily prevented by feeding a proper, balanced diet.
Gliders display specialized adaptations for gummivory, including physiologic characteristics such as low metabolism and low‐to‐moderate protein requirements. Furthermore, they carry anatomic features such as gouging teeth, strong gripping claws, and an extensive hindgut capable of supporting fermentation.
They additionally consume the hemolymph and soft tissues of invertebrates and non‐foliage plant materials including bark and simple sugar exudates such as saps, manna, honeydew, and lerp, as well as nectars for energy
Gums have also been shown to be an important source of dietary minerals, particularly calcium, balancing out the lack of these nutrients in simple carbohydrate‐based foods, as well as most invertebrates analyzed. Thus, gliders should be considered omnivores with specialty tending towards gummivory, and ingestive behaviors highly variable depending on season and locale.
Wild gliders’ diet largely consists of Acacia Gum, which is indigestible to many species. Sugar gliders, however, have an elongated caecum (part of the intestine) to allow gum to be digested.
Variations of the homemade diet are very popular with sugar gliders and their owners. Honey, calcium powder and baby cereal are often used in these recipes to provide proper nutrition to your glider but fresh fruit and vegetables should also be offered each night.
Your sugar glider’s diet should contain a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and about 1/4 of its food should have protein. Gliders tend to prefer fruits and vegetables that have a sweet taste.
Your sugar glider’s daily basic diet should include:
- A nectar mix such as Leadbeater’s mixture
- Commercial pelleted food for gliders, or an insectivore/carnivore pelleted food
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables you could feed your sugar glider are apples, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet corn, figs, grapes, grapefruit, mangoes, oranges, peaches, pears, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and many others. If possible, all fruits and vegetables fed to your glider should be fresh and not canned.
Small pieces of cooked lean cuts of meat or poultry without any additional spices or sauces are good sources of protein. Hard boiled eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, and tofu are also other protein options.
Sugar Gliders love live insects. Crickets, mealworms, and earthworms are easily attainable insects. Don’t feed your glider insects that have been collected outside where they may have been contaminated with pesticides. Although great sources of protein, insects should only be used as treats due to their high-fat content.
Nuts are extremely popular treats with sugar gliders. The nuts should be raw and unsalted and be given out sparingly. Although loved by gliders, nuts are high in fat.
Sugar gliders can sometimes be picky eaters. Even with a well-balanced diet, your pet may be lacking in important vitamins and minerals. Reptile multivitamin and calcium with D3 supplements can help make sure you have a happy healthy pet.
Even though sugar gliders aren’t reptiles, the reptile supplements are convenient, affordable, and supply the needed dietary vitamins and minerals.
Commercial pelleted food for gliders
It is important to note that commercial food is not a complete feed. This diet is recommended as a base, with supplementation needed to fulfill the species-specific requirements.
We recommend Mazuri products. For instance, those feeding Mazuri® Insectivore Diet to sugar gliders should also supplement the diet with proper nectar or high moisture fruits.
We see our sugar gliders drink each and every day. Even though sugar gliders tend to get a significant amount of their fluids from
eating fresh fruits like apples, they should always have at least one other source of
drinking water in their cage at all times. Usually, the best way to do this is with a
common “drip” water bottle like this that hangs on the side of their cage – and has a little
ball in the end that releases liquid whenever they touch it.
In fact, one of the most common causes of death in sugar gliders are toxicity poisoning and the most common source of this is everyday tap water. This is because most metropolitan water sources frequently experience “spikes” in chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals that are added to the water.
These spikes don’t affect us or even larger pets most of the time but to a tiny baby bird or sugar glider that only weighs a few ounces, they can be deadly.
Because of this, the best water to give your gliders is always some sort of bottled or
drinking water. Usually, spring water or drinking water is just fine and since a gallon
can last a long time with these little guys, it’s not very expensive. If your home has a
water filtration, your water is antiquated. Just make sure to change the filters
Make a Leadbeater’s mixture for your sugar glider by following this recipe:
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons raw honey
- 1 shelled hard-boiled egg
- 1 teaspoon vitamin/mineral supplement
- 1/2 cup high-protein baby cereal
Mix the first four ingredients in a blender, and then gradually add the baby cereal, blending until smooth. Refrigerate or freeze unused portions. Discard any unused refrigerated portion after three days.
Make Homemade Yogurt Drops
1 cup of powdered milk or soymilk powder
1/4 cup soy powder
4 oz bottle baby juice
2 tsp cornstarch
Mix powdered milk, soy powdered milk, and juice in pan and heat over medium heat until it forms a thick paste. Add cornstarch turn to low and cook for about 3 more minutes stirring to prevent scorching.
Put paste into an icing bag and squeeze out drops onto wax paper. Place in fridge to cool then sit out on the counter to room temp approximately 3 to 4 hours to allow to dry. Store in airtight container.
What NOT To Feed Your Glider…
Overfeeding calories can lead to obesity; provision of excess calories can also contribute to selective feeding on favored (yet imbalanced) ingredients that may fulfill energy requirements before other nutrient needs are met.
Excess and/or poor‐quality protein intakes may manifest as altered blood metabolic or enzyme values, or weight changes.
Evidence of excess dietary iron includes tissue deposition of this mineral, as well as high circulating blood concentrations and fecal excretion in sugar gliders
Any food with refined sugar, such as canned fruit or candy, is dangerous for the sugar glider. Like other pets, sugar gliders cannot eat chocolate. Because they are so small, even the tiniest amount can be fatal.
Coffee, tea, soda, and other human beverages are also toxic to sugar gliders, especially those drinks that contain caffeine.
Meat and Dairy
While some gliders may be able to tolerate small amounts of flavored yogurt, they are generally lactose intolerant and cannot consume dairy products such as cheese or ice cream.
Wild sugar gliders do eat lots of protein, but captive sugar gliders should not be allowed to eat raw meat or eggs due to the risk of contamination.
Fruits and Vegetables
All fruits and vegetables should be washed before they are fed to a sugar glider, to ensure chemicals and pesticides are eliminated.
Likewise, glider owners should avoid feeding their pets fruits and vegetables, such as blackberries or broccoli, that are difficult to clean thoroughly.
Use bottled drinking or spring water, never tap water because chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine in tap water can be fatal to gliders. Other potentially toxic vegetables include avocado, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, lettuce, and other greens, garlic, onions, peas, and turnips.
Nuts, Seeds, and Pits
Fruit pits are poisonous to sugar gliders. Nuts and other seeds aren’t toxic, but because of their high fat and low nutritional value, they should be served only as occasional treats.
Do Gliders Live Together?
Sugar gliders in the wild live in social family units called colonies. This social life is very important to all sugar gliders and they thrive on the companionship and communication from their own species. In their native habitat, they live in large colonies of up to 12 individuals. Colonies usually consist of one, occasionally two dominant males and the rest are females.
They are highly interactive animals and do best living in groups of at least two or three. Interacting with a human does provide some form of companionship, but it is not compared to that of another glider. Also, since gliders are nocturnal, most people can only spend time with their gliders in the mornings and evenings while both parties are awake. For this reason, it is strongly recommended to purchase gliders in pairs or groups to keep them socialized.
You can keep multiple female gliders or multiple male gliders together in the same cage, but it is not suggested to keep multiple males with only one female. This can cause fighting between the males when the breeding season comes around. The ratio of females should always be equal to or higher than the ratio of males in the cage.
If your gliders did not come from the same litter and have not been introduced, it is recommended to allow them to adjust before living together. If possible, start by housing the gliders in cages that are next-to but separate from one another. This way they can get used to each other’s smells, behaviors, etc. before interacting face-to-face. Once the gliders get accustomed to each other, you can allow them to meet and interact.
It is best to make the initial introduction in a neutral space so that neither glider feels like their personal space or property is being ‘invaded’. Make sure the meeting is carefully supervised- if there is any aggression, separate the gliders, and try again in a few days. In our experience, most gliders will adapt peacefully to the addition of another or multiple new gliders. When adding a baby glider to a cage that houses an adult Sugar Glider, extra caution should be given during the introduction process. Established adult Sugar Gliders should have a slow (2 week) introduction to baby gliders entering their domain.
Are Sugar Gliders Party Animals?
Sugar gliders are nocturnal, which means they generally sleep during the daylight hours and are active all night. Some sugar gliders may start to awaken around dusk and be active all night while others may not awaken until 10 p.m. or even 2 a.m.
Handle your sugar glider for at least two hours per night for good bonding. It may take special goodies to lure your sugar glider out of its nest when you are ready to interact.
In general, sunlight guides sugar gliders’ sleep patterns. Occasionally, sugar gliders may come out during the day if they are very hungry or disturbed. Consistently sleeping more than 16 hours in a day may indicate an ill or stressed sugar glider.
Health & Illness
Sugar Gliders are excellent in hiding their illness, so make sure you’re always alert about your gliders when they are sick. If your pet shows signs of illness, do not give it any medications unless prescribed by your veterinarian.
Remember that with the appearance of any clinical signs, a qualified veterinarian should be allowed to make a definitive diagnosis. Identifying and treating diseases in their early stages is the key to successful treatment and cure. Like many other exotic species that become ill, sick sugar gliders are very fragile and require prompt veterinary attention.
Sugar Gliders that have been fed a proper diet, have a good homesugar and receive all the attention they need are healthy and happy pets. But even with proper care, sometimes illness or injury can occur. Some of the more common health concerns are listed below.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency are lameness, paralysis, and difficulty moving. To prevent calcium deficiency, feed your glider calcium-rich foods and provide a calcium supplement.
Sugar Gliders may become constipated if not fed enough roughage in their diet. Symptoms are a hard distended stomach, difficulty defecating, and hard dry stool.
Diarrhea can be from eating too much citrus fruit, stress, or other causes. Your pet can quickly become dehydrated and die if the problem persists and is left untreated.
Your sugar glider may receive open wounds, torn claws, or broken bones from accidents and other unforeseen events. Veterinarian aid is advised for any severe injuries.
Gliders fed a diet of fatty foods may become overweight. If your pet is overweight, reduce the number of fatty foods in his diet. Sugar gliders of proper weight live happier and healthier lives.
Parasites common to the sugar glider are ticks, mites, fleas, lice, roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm. Advice from a veterinarian is helpful in determining the correct treatment depending on the type of parasite.
Stress can be caused by a poor diet, illness, dirty cage, a small or overcrowded cage, over-handling, loneliness, boredom, excessive heat or cold, or one of many other possible reasons. Symptoms may be a loss of appetite, excessive eating, excessive sleeping, or frantically circling the cage.
Housing Sugar Gliders…
A potential sugar glider owner should be aware of the care requirements and personality traits of a sugar glider before getting one. Sugar gliders are a long-term commitment, living up to 14 years in captivity, and require a special diet, lots of attention, and space.
Galvanized wire is not glider safe. Not only is their zinc in the coating to reduce rusting but the coating process often leaves many tiny sharp points on the surface of the wire that can scratch or cut gliders paws as they climb. Gliders also tent to rub their bellies and the cloaca on the cage as they mark their territory. Cuts or scratches of the cloaca can cause infections that might require vet care and antibiotics.
Some PVC coated wires have been very toxic to sugar gliders. It is difficult to tell which are or are not safe since the manufacturer is often not listed on the product. Most of go with over caution and would not use a PVC coated wire for our gliders.
The plastic hardware cloth sold in the garden section of Lowes and Home Depot is most often used for glider cages because it is sturdy and is known to be safe for gliders.
Sugar Glider housing is typically flight/aviary/bird cages. There are smaller feeding doors you will need to zip-tie shut. (Never underestimate your sugar bear!)
In order to line the nest, wild sugar gliders will carry twigs and leaves up to the den in their tails. In captivity, we encourage this natural behavior with bamboo and other natural leaves and stems.