Sugar gliders are palm-size possums that can glide half the length of a soccer pitch in one trip. These common, tree-dwelling marsupials are native to tropical and cool-temperate forests in Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Their “wings” are made from a thin skin stretched between the fifth forefinger and back ankle, and they use their bushy tails as rudders as they soar through the air.
Often compared with flying squirrels—rodents with similar bodies that can also glide—sugar gliders are more closely related to other marsupials like kangaroos. As nocturnal animals, they see well in the dark with their big black eyes. They have mostly grey fur but their underbellies are white, and their heads have black stripes.
Sugar gliders nest in tree hollows with up to 10 other adults. In addition to forests, they’ve also been found in plantations and rural gardens. Females have one or two young, called joeys, at least once a year. The young stay with their mothers until they’re seven to 10 months old.
In parts of their range, winter temperatures can fall below freezing. To keep warm, sugar gliders sleep huddled together. That, along with short periods of reduced body temperature called torpor, helps them save energy on colder days.
Sugar gliders have a flexible diet that can vary according to location and season. They feed on nectar, pollen, acacia, and eucalyptus tree sap. They’ve also been observed systematically searching tree cones for spiders and beetles.
Though threatened by feral animals, bushfires, and land clearance for agriculture, sugar gliders are considered to have stable populations in the wild. Sugar gliders are bred and kept as pets.