From dogs and cats to fish, birds and turtles, the types of animals Americans prize as pets are wide and varied. However, for some animal lovers, the average species owned by everyone else in the neighborhood simply isn't enough, prompting them to search for exotic animals to share their lives with. One such animal-the sugar glider-is a domesticated family pet in hundreds of households across the United States. To learn more about this unique animal and decide whether it is a good fit for your family, check out the following sugar glider facts.
What is a sugar glider?
Sugar gliders are small marsupials that make their home in the eastern and northern portions of Australia, New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Squirrel-like in appearance, sugar gliders-which are actually flying possums-grow to a length of 12 to 13 inches including their tails and come in colors which range from blue-grey, brown-grey and tan to yellow or albino. The animals are also characterized by a black stripe that stretches from their nose to the middle of their backs and have a cream-colored belly, chest and throat. They weigh between four and six ounces, with males generally weighing a few ounces more than the females. The mating season for sugar gliders can occur any time of year but most frequently begins in August. Female sugar gliders give birth to two offspring after a gestation period that lasts 16 days.
Sugar gliders have five digits on each foot, including an opposable toe on their hind feet. The unique species also has a membrane called "patagium" which extends between the first toe on the foot and the fifth finger on the hand and allows the animals to glide distances of over 400 feet. The species is able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures and becomes goes into a state of torpor-temporary hibernation-during extremely cold conditions in an effort to conserve energy. Sugar gliders have a lifespan of approximately 15 years in the wild.
Sugar glider habitat and diet
Sugar gliders make their homes in treetop hollows and rarely descend far enough to reach the ground. By sticking to the treetops, these marsupials eliminate the risk of predation from a variety of species-such as owls, cats and kookaburras-that could easily attack them on the ground. They typically dwell in groups of 15 to 30 and are most active during the nighttime when they search for food. A sugar glider's diet is comprised primarily of gum and acacia trees, sap from eucalyptus, nectar and pollen, honeydew and a variety of bugs and arachnids.
Sugar gliders as pets
Because of their unique appearance and exotic nature, sugar gliders have become popular domestic house pets for people throughout the world. Although most states permit sugar gliders as pets-with the exception of California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Alaska-the species is not for everyone. Sugar gliders are commonly taken captive from the natural habitats and sold illegally, creating concern from animal welfare groups across the globe who believe the species is best off residing in its native wild environment.
If you plan on keeping a sugar glider as a pet, it's imperative to provide the proper nutrition for the captive animal, which breaks down to a diet of 50 percent insects, 25 percent fruit and the remaining 25 percent vegetables. Dietary supplements may also be necessary to prevent paralysis, which can result from an imbalance of calcium to phosphorus in the animal's diet. Sugar gliders also require a large wire cage filled with branches and climbing materials such as ropes and miniature ladders that mimic their natural habitat.