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The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a small gliding possum originating from the marsupial family. The sugar glider is native to eastern and northern mainland Australia (as well as being introduced to Tasmania, Australia) and is also native to New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago.
Habitat: They can be found in any forest where there is food supply but are commonly found in forests with eucalyptus trees. They are nocturnal, meaning they sleep in their nests during the day and are active at night. At night, they hunt for insects and small vertebrates and feed on the sweet sap of certain species of eucalyptus, acacia and gum trees. The sugar glider is named for its preference for nectarous foods and its ability to glide through the air, much like a flying squirrel. When suitable habitats are present, sugar gliders can be seen 1 per 1,000 square meters provided that there are tree hollows available for shelter. They live in groups of up to eight adults, plus the current season's young, all sharing a nest and defending their territory, an example of helping at the nest. A dominant adult male will mark his territory and members of the group with saliva and a scent produced by separate glands on the forehead and chest. Intruders who lack the appropriate scent marking are expelled violently.
Appearance and Anatomy: A sugar glider has a squirrel-like body with a long partially prehensile tail. The males are larger than the females, and their length from the nose to the tip of the tail is about 24 to 30 cm (12–13 inches, the body itself is approx. 5–6 inches). A sugar glider has a thick, soft fur coat that is usually blue-grey; some have been known to be yellow, tan, or albino. A black stripe is seen from its nose to midway of its back. Its belly, throat, and chest is a cream color. It has five digits on each foot, each having a claw, except for the opposable toe on the hindfeet. Also on the hindfeet, the second and third digits are partially syndactylous (fused) together to form a grooming comb. Its most striking feature is the patagium, or membrane, that extends from the fifth finger to the first toe. When legs are stretched out, this membrane allows it to glide distances of 50–150 meters. This gliding is regulated by changing the curvature of the membrane or moving the legs and tail. Another feature are the scent glands, located on the frontal (forehead), sternal (chest), and paracloacal (cloaca). These are used for marking purposes, mainly for the males. The frontal is easily seen on adult males as a bald spot. The male also has a bifurcated (two shafts) penis. The female has a marsupium (pouch) in the middle of her abdomen to carry offspring.
Diet and Nutrition: Like many exotic animals, the sugar glider can suffer from calcium deficiencies if it is not fed an adequate diet. Calcium to phosphorus ratios should be 2:1 to prevent hypocalcemia, sometimes known as hind leg paralysis. In the wild, gliders live off gum and sap (typically from the eucalyptus), acacia trees, nectar and pollen, manna and honeydew and a wide variety of insects and arachnids. A captive glider's diet should be 50% insects (gut-loaded) or other sources of protein, 25% fruit and 25% vegetables.
Breeding: The age of sexual maturity in sugar gliders varies slightly between the males and females. The males reach maturity between 4–12 months old, while females reach maturity between 8–12 months. In the wild, sugar gliders breed once or twice a year depending on the climate and habitat conditions, while they can breed multiple times a year in captivity as a result of consistent living conditions and proper diet. A sugar glider female has one or two joeys a litter. The gestation period is 15 to 17 days, after which the baby sugar glider (0.2 g) will crawl into a mother's pouch for further development. It is virtually unnoticeable that the female is pregnant until after the joey has climbed into her pouch and begins to grow, forming bumps in her pouch. Once in the pouch, the joey will attach itself to its mother's nipple, where it will stay for about 60 to 70 days. The joey gradually spills out of the pouch until it falls out completely. The mother can get pregnant while her joeys are still IP (in pouch) and hold the pregnancy until the pouch is available. Their eyes will remain closed for another 12–14 days, and they are virtually furless at first. During this time, they will begin to mature by growing fur and increasing gradually in size. It is about two months for the offspring to be completely weaned off of the mother, and at four months, they are on their own.
As Pets: The sugar glider is a popular domestic pet, but is one of the most commonly traded wild animals in the illegal pet trade, where animals are plucked directly from their natural habitats. In Australia, sugar gliders can be kept in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory but not Western Australia, New South Wales, ACT or Tasmania. Sugar gliders are most popular as pets in the United States, where they are bred in large numbers. Most states and cities allow sugar gliders as pets, with some exceptions including California, Hawaii, Alaska, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. But are allowed in MA if sold by a usda licensed seller.