Anatomy of Sugar Gliders

Sugar Gliders are unique mammals native to Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. They have many adaptations that suit their needs for life in the treetops of these regions. Here are some things you should know about the anatomy of Sugar Gliders, especially if you have one as a pet.

Sugar Glider ears are thin, mostly hairless, and relatively large compared to the rest of its head.   Each ear can move independently allowing the animal to quickly identify the source of even the slightest sound. When bonded properly, Sugar Gliders will recognize their owner’s voice and exhibit similar intelligence to many cats and dogs. Their ears can dry out and crack without proper care and attention.

Sugar Gliders have a highly developed sense of smell. This is used to help them find food, sense predators, and also recognize other members of their “family.” As babies (Joeys), they primarily use smell to identify and bond with their family.

The eyes of a Sugar Glider are large and protrude from each side of the head. This gives them an extremely large field of vision. As nocturnal animals by nature, they have excellent night vision. Although their eyes look black in color, they are actually a dark brown. Due to the number of rods and cones in their eyes, it is believed that Sugar Gliders see in only shades of gray – and the color red. They can excrete a white-milky substance from their tear ducts to help them with grooming.

Sugar Gliders are “diprodonts” – meaning that they have two upper front teeth and two much longer lower incisors that point forward. In the wild, they use their teeth to “scoop out” fruit and pry open tree bark to access sap and insects. Unlike rodents, a Sugar Glider’s teeth do NOT constantly grow. Since they don’t instinctively need to chew on things, they aren’t “destructive” by nature. A Sugar Glider’s teeth should never be “ground-down” or “clipped.” Sugar Gliders also have a long tongue. In addition to being used regularly for cleaning and grooming, it’s primary purpose is to lick things like juice, water and other sweet things. Sugar gliders often “suck” the liquids out of their fruits & veggies; spitting out the remainder in small half-moon shaped chunks.

One of the most interesting things about Sugar Gliders in general is that they don’t have “feet”. Instead they have 4 little hands, which are much like ours. Opposable thumbs on each hand and foot help to easily climb, groom, and hold food or toys. Each finger has a sharp claw which allows it to “cling – almost like Velcro – wherever it lands. The lower hands are especially interesting, in that the 2nd and 3rd fingers are partially fused together (Syndactylous). This acts like a “comb” when grooming themselves. In addition, each lower hand has a large, padded “thumb”, (known as the hallux), which is used for gripping and holding onto branches.

Sugar Gliders can begin reproducing between the ages of 7 and 12 months, though some wait until they are 14 months old. Since they are marsupials, Sugar Glider females carry their young in a pouch. The pouch is located roughly where you would expect to find a “belly button” on other mammals. Female Sugar Gliders will “cycle” twice a year, and there are normally no outward signs of it. When babies are born (usually one or two at a time), they are about the size of a grain of rice. Upon being born, they crawl into the pouch and “attach” themselves one of their mother’s 4 nipples for approximately 8 weeks. Unlike other mammals which have separate rear “openings” for pooping, peeing, and reproducing - Sugar Gliders use the same area at the base of their tail for all three. This is also the case for male Sugar Gliders. Male Sugar Gliders reach sexual maturity around the same age as females (6-8 months) and develop two noticeable scent glands (if he remains un-neutered). The first is a diamond-shaped a “bald spot” on its forehead - and the second is a similar, smaller spot in the center of their chest. The reason these areas appear to be “bald” is that the oils secreted by these glands mats down their fur and often has a “crusty” appearance. At this time males also develop a large testicle sac (sometimes referred to as the “pom-pom”). The testicles are attached to the main body by a single “chord” which contains no nerve endings. This makes the neutering process very simple and virtually painless to the animal. Males also have a “bifurcated” penis, meaning that the end has two distinct “branches.” Males will sometimes experience an extended penis, which looks similar to a pink “worm” extending from their rectum. If you experience this, don’t worry, it will retract on its own after a few days.

Lastly, the patagium, or gliding membrane of the Sugar Glider, is a flexible, but thin flap of furry skin that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. Do not pull on this membrane, as it could harm your glider. In flight, this skin spreads out into a rectangular shape – basically transforming them into a tiny “kite”. When not gliding, this extra skin “retracts” up against their body, and looks like a rippled dark line along its sides. Sugar Gliders are extremely intelligent “aviators”, in that they can accurately triangulate distances and glide-ratios by “bobbing” their head from side-to-side just before launching. Once in the air, they “steer” themselves to their target by tilting their hands & arms, adjusting tension in their “wings”, and using their tail as a rudder. Sugar Gliders have a “semi-prehensile” tail – meaning that they can carry lightweight objects with it (like twigs, leaves, etc..), but they cannot hang from it like a monkey. The tail is approximately half their body length – usually about 6 inches fully-grown - and is used primarily as a steering mechanism to guide them while gliding through the air. Never hold a sugar glider by its tail. 


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