A sugar glider


We’ve recently seen videos and photos of flying squirrels from the New World, but here’s a very distant relative, the sugar glider from Australia (Petaurus breviceps). Flying squirrels are placental mammals, while sugar gliders are marsupials, and have evolved their morphology and behavior completely independently of flying squirrels. This is in fact a remarkable case of convergent evolution, one that I mention in WEIT.

Matthew Cobb sent me a gif, and why not share it? Note that this is a long one, with three different aerial displays:

Sugar gliders are popular pets, even in the U.S., but I’ve never had one, and would be wary of it. They are, after all, wild animals that are completely arboreal. If you’ve had one, weigh in below.


  1. marksolock
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  2. Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I had a pair of them. They were great… mostly. We had a cat rodeo one time when one jumped from the wall and landed on the back of the cat.

    On the other hand, they were kind of smelly, had no sense of bladder control, and little tiny claws. It was cute when one ran up your arm, until your skin started puffing up from the dozens of tiny scratches they left.

    Also, few vets know what to do with them, so if they get sick…

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 3, 2014 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      We had a cat rodeo one time


  3. Tom
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    It’s a shame to see wild animals that would otherwise be soaring freely between trees being cooped up as exotic pets for someone’s amusement.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 30, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      It is, but on the other hand, they’re regarded as pests by some. Someone commented on a video of southern flying squirrels she was waiting for one from a neighbor who worked in pest control and who didn’t like killing them.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted February 1, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Bred in captivity for decades outside their natural habitat, these particular individuals would not exist if other people’s amusement was properly policed.

      In Australia, nobody’s allowed to keep them as pets. Our wild sugar gliders have to amuse themselves by interacting with owls, feral cats, and bushfires…

  4. BilBy
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Rather cool how they bring their limbs in and lift their heads just before landing. @ OgreMkV – the ‘lack of bladder control’ may be similar behaviour to that of lesser bushbabies (and other galagos) that pee on their hands and feet and run about leaving scent trails. I knew someone in South Africa who was rehabilitating an injured one and it would sit in the corner of the room, up high, fix you with an unwinking stare, pee on his little hands and then launch himself unerringly at your face. They seem less cute when they do that.

    • KenS
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      “They seem less cute when they do that.”

      I could not stop laughing at that line. Good one.

  5. Richard Olson
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    They strike me as an animal with a quite unusual and striking behavior that would both entertain and divert attention from its less desirable attributes for a short while, but once the novelty wears off its drawbacks far exceed any remaining attraction. Kinda like parrots that way, maybe. Easier to come by than to get rid of is my guess. Unless, of course, one wearies and resorts to rather less than humane measures.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      I wondered if they might be short-lived like VA opossums, but they can apparently live up to 12 years in captivity, with 8 years being common. It is a bit of a commitment to adopt one.

      I’ll bet they’re quieter than parrots.

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 12:12 am | Permalink

      Yeah, most people don’t realize what’s truly involved in caring for exotics. I kept and bred a variety of reptiles and insects for many years. I also had a Hahn’s macaw, a cockatiel, and was the custodian of my sister’s yellow nape amazon. I fostered critters here and there as well. Reptiles often get sorely mistreated, and it breaks my heart….but not as much as the parrots. Parrots have the mental and emotional capacity of human toddlers. They need lots of love and attention – it’s a full time job. Sadly, I’ve seen too many parrots “break” emotionally and they resort to self-injurious behavior like plucking out all their feathers until they are just a bloody, bedraggled, sad mess. They will also scream for attention (like toddlers do) and that’s when people start looking for new homes for the birds. They are shuffled from home to home until they die of heartbreak or lack of proper diet and care. I loved my Hahn’s macaw (a little larger than a cockatiel but all the personality of a big macaw!) but regrettably I had to find a new home when I got divorced and he died from a cold years later. I know a couple who keep rare exotics (legally) like sugar gliders and small primates, but they work their asses off to do it right and the animals are healthy and seem content (who really knows though?).

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 30, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        Yes a lot of animals suffer ad pets. Even guinea pigs are not cared for properly with people giving them only pellets to eat instead of fresh food and putting them in cages that are too small.

        I feel really bad for turtle that are sold as small babies because they inevitably out grow their homes to be abandoned by their now disinterested owner.

  6. Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I imagine that, were I to attempt to introduce one to Baihu, Baihu would shortly thereafter introduce it to his digestive system.

    Somebody was selling sugar gliders at the county fair. Called them “pocket pets,” and he said he took him with him wherever he went. They sure are cute little buggers, but I’m sure they’re not for me.


  7. Hempenstein
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I’d go for a domestic (placental) one. I don’t remember any bladder issues with Geronimo. But once when I went away for the weekend I left him with enough food and water in the cage for the weekend. He figured how to get out, but then couldn’t get water. When I returned, he was not pleased, and showed it by running up the curtain and gliding down to the floor like in the video, chattering all the way. No longlasting damage done.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      “Geronimo”! LOL

  8. Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Although I don’t like seeing these amazing animals in captivity, I can’t look away. I marvel at their agility and I’m even a bit jealous. I think I saw something like this flying around my old neighborhood many years ago, probably an escapee from a house.

  9. stuartcoyle
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Sugar gliders are nothing compared to these:

    • Prof.Pedant
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Drop-Bears look more like sugar-gliders than koalas to me, and dropping on something is much more a sugar-glider-like thing than a koala-like thing. I wonder if anyone has done any genetic work-ups on them?

      • Posted January 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        It’s a little-known fact about the drop-bear that they’re raised as a food animal by those Aussies descended from Scottish ancestors. The first Scots to come to Australia found they made a pretty decent substitute for the wild haggis of their homeland, and so started hunting them. Concerned at what was happening to the wild population, they developed some pretty innovative domestication techniques.

        In fact, Diana MacPherson, a regular here, as I recall holds dual Canadian / Australian citizenship, and traces her ancestry back to Scotland. Diana, if you’re reading this, perhaps you could offer some additional insight? Maybe even share a family recipe?



        • Marella
          Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          Drop-Bear recipe*

          Put one drop-bear and a medium sized rock in a billy of water over the fire. Boil for three days, remove the drop-bear from the billy, and eat the rock.

          *Derived from a well-known recipe for parrot.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

            In New Zealand, that’s the recipe for cooking Pukekos

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

              Shoulda been a link there. HTML fail AGAIN… 😦

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted February 3, 2014 at 12:37 am | Permalink

            Do you boil the water, or the rock?
            2kK should do for the latter. Most components, anyway.

            • Posted February 3, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

              Unless you’ve got one Hell of a pressure cooker, the water’s going to be long past boiling by 2000K. And I hate to think of the energy required to maintain 2000K for three days — nor can I imagine that much of anything would be left.

              …but maybe that’s the point….


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted February 3, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                Going out of one end of cookery and into metamorphism …

              • Posted February 3, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                Hey — aren’t metaphoric rocks your specialty?


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted February 3, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

                Only in terms of what interests me ; I get paid to look at (to be polite) sludge. “Crustal ephemera!” as my metamorphic petrology lecturer used to dismiss the rest of the department, “If it hasn’t been down to 100km depth for 100 million years, then it is plainly nowhere near equilibrium and can safely be ignored.”
                Took no prisoners, did MAL.

              • Posted February 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Sounds much more littoral than metaphoric to me….


      • stuartcoyle
        Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        Good idea, there could be a PhD thesis in that! Now to find the Drop Bear DNA. Any volunteers to be bait?

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, they’re not nearly as meaty. Those drop bears are delicious grilled and one will serve up to 12 people.

    • BilBy
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

      That’s not a drop-bear…THIS is a drop-bear http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsupial_lion

    • natalielaberlinoise
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      From your link

      “… There are some suggested folk remedies that are said to act as a repellent to Drop Bears, these include having forks in the hair or Vegemite or toothpaste spread behind the ears. There is no evidence to suggest that any such repellents works. …”

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      ahhhh….you got me. got me good.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    I feel less sorry for them as exotic pets because they seem to be so easily amused! (My zebra finch seems happy to critique American Idol contestants and offer his own better performances)

  11. Cooperator
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    I have some that live in my little greenhouse room, which also hosts aquatic turtles (living in the pond) and some box turtles roaming around and some rodents. The sugar gliders live in a tree, so they don’t deal with the rest of the critters. They’re quite friendly, but they are nocturnal, so most interaction with them is in the early evening. I had finches in the room too, before the sugar gliders, and found out unfortunately that the sugar gliders can catch and eat the birds.

    • Posted January 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      This room sounds awesome. Do you have pics? God am I jealous!

  12. Red_Wullf
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Cute, but I recommend a dog. Over 30,000 years of custom modification through selective breeding make them ideally suited to be your animal companion of choice. Even more than, dare I say it, cats. 😉

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted February 2, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      Are you sure this is the right website for you?

  13. Posted January 30, 2014 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Sugar Gliders are extremely cute. They are moderately common in the woodlands here in Canberra, though hard to find because they’re nocturnal. In Australia its illegal to keep them as pets in most states. They were introduced to Tasmania 100+ years ago are are now a serious threat to the endangered Swift Parrot, which only breeds in Tasmania. Yes, Sugar Gliders eat parrots – they just climb into their nesting hollows at night and kill them. Mainland Parrots defend themselves, Swift Parrots haven’t learnt to.

  14. Jo Kitchen
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    They are mesmerizing to watch,but I don`t agree with keeping them as pets.

  15. Hempenstein
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Apparently nobody in Richmond VA reads this website. I just learned that their minor league baseball team (which used to be the AAA Richmond Braves) is now the AA-league Richmond Flying Squirrels

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