Sugar gliders are marsupials native to the forests of New Guinea and the east coast of Australia. Being a marsupial, the female sugar glider has a pouch in which she raises one or two young (joeys). The sugar glider name comes from their fondness for the sweet sap and gums of certain species of eucalyptus and acacia trees, and from the flap of skin that stretches between their front and hind limbs that allows them to glide between trees. In their natural environment, sugar gliders are highly social tree dwelling creatures, often living in groups of 6–10. Being nocturnal, they are active by night when they hunt for insects and small vertebrates.
Pet sugar gliders do not do well alone, and unless given a lot of attention and handling, are best kept in pairs or groups. They tend to form strong bonds with their owner and enjoy hiding in a shirt pocket or cloth pouch where they feel safe. During the evening, they become more active and may actually glide into an open hand from a roost on their cage. Sugar gliders can be quite vocal with a whole series of yaps and screams. Both male and female may scent mark their territory (or cagemate) with scent glands found on the top of the dorsal head and neck in the male and from the pouch area in the female. They make suitable pets when given ample space, sufficient socialization, and when their specific dietary requirements are met. They have an average life span of 10–12 years.
Because of their active nature, sugar gliders should be provided with as large a cage as possible. Minimum cage size should be 36" x 24" x 36" with designated areas for food, shelter, and exercise. Sugar gliders prefer a nest box or sleeping pouch positioned high in the cage for secure daytime, undisturbed resting. The nest box can be lined with bedding made of recycled newspaper products, dried leaves, or hard wood shavings, which should be changed regularly, minimally every one to two weeks. Use fleece cage accessories for lounging and landing areas, and wood branches, shelves, and perches, placed at various levels, to stimulate climbing. Bird toys, such as swing and chews toys, can be offered for further stimulation and entertainment. Sugar gliders tolerate temperatures between 65° and 90°F, with an ideal room temperature kept between 75°F to 80°F.
The most common medical problems seen in sugar gliders stem from malnutrition as the result of inappropriate diets and feeding practices. These include:
- Limb weakness, tremors, and paralysis
- Dental disease—Traumatic incisor fracture, tartar buildup and periodontal disease, tooth decay
- Diarrhea with or without rectal or cloacal prolapse—Complicated by bacterial and parasitic infection
- Self-mutilation—Poor husbandry and environmental stress also predispose to this self-destructive behavior
- Cataracts—A result of congenital predisposition and/or nutritional imbalances.
Sugar gliders are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. In the wild, their diet consists of sap, pollen, nectars, and insects. In captivity, the sugar glider must be fed a variety of nectars, insects, and other protein sources in order to meets its specific nutritional requirements. It is important to note that fruits and vegetables are not a part of the glider's natural diet and should be fed in very limited amounts. A suggested portion size for one glider would include 1 tablespoon gut-loaded insects or insectivore diet, a tablespoon of nectar, and ½ teaspoon of fruit. The diet should be offered in fresh portions in the evening.