The sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) is a small, omnivorous, arboreal, and nocturnal gliding possum belonging to the marsupial infraclass. The common name refers to its preference for sugary nectarous foods and ability to glide through the air, much like a flying squirrel. Due to convergent evolution, they have very similar appearance and habits to the flying squirrel, but are not closely related. The scientific name, Petaurus breviceps, translates from Latin as "short-headed rope-dancer", a reference to their canopy acrobatics.
Sugar gliders are characterised by their gliding membrane, known as the patagium, which extends from their forelegs to hindlegs. Gliding serves as an efficient means of both locating food and evading predators. They are covered in soft, pale grey to brown fur, which is lighter in colour on their underside.
The sugar glider has 5 known subspecies located in Australia, as well as other neighbouring islands such as Papua New Guinea and Tasmania. They are known for their gliding ability which can reach distances of up to 90 meters between trees. The gliding membrane that allows them to reach such distances extends from their wrist to their ankle.
Sugar gliders can be found in both wet and dry woodlands and use hollowed out cavities for shelter. The dominant male will mark his territory with saliva and a scent produced by glands located on his forehead and chest. Native predators within their range include kookaburras, owls, goannas, and snakes.
Sugar gliders can live up to 12 years; however, it is more common for them to only live 4-5 years in the wild. They are a marsupial, carrying their young in a pouch. They usually have two young per litter and emerge from the pouch after 60-70 days, remaining in the nest for another 50 days. The young will forage with their mother until they are 7-10 months old; however, males generally assist in caring for the young gliders as well.
Sugar gliders are found in large groups during the cool winter months to conserve energy. They can enter torpor, a short hibernation period that decreases their metabolism and body temperature. They can enter this state daily for 13 hours at a time on days that would require large amounts of energy to maintain body temperature, especially on rainy days when it is cooler and their food would be washed away.
Sugar gliders earned their name from their love of eating nectar. Their diet also consists of gums of wattle trees and eucalypt trees, manna (a white carbohydrate-rich crystalline substance that occurs on eucalyptus leaves), honeydew, flowers, pollen, sap, and invertebrates.
The greatest threats to the sugar glider are feral predators, such as cats, foxes and dogs, as well as habitat clearing and fragmentation. Overall, their conservation status is of Least Concern.