These small mammals are marsupials, like kangaroos. However, their bodies are more squirrel-like than kangaroo-like.
They get their name from the fact that they do like their sweets. Although they will eat a variety of things, including insects and vegetables, they prefer nectar in the form of the sweet sap of eucalyptus, acacia and other trees.
As for the “glider" part of their name, they are able to glide from tree to tree with the help of a special membrane — called the patagium — that extends from their fingers along the sides of their bodies to their toes, like webbing. They glide in much the same way that so-called flying squirrels glide from tree to tree.
Although it may look like they're flying, sugar gliders don't have wings and can't fly from the ground up into a tree. Instead, they leap from a higher position to a lower position and use their arms, legs, special membrane and tail to glide along the air for distances of up to 150 feet! Their webbed membrane acts sort of like a parachute to slow their fall.
Sugar gliders are nocturnal. This means they sleep during the day and actively hunt for food at night. When the weather is cold or food is scarce, sugar gliders will reduce their activity by entering an emergency resting phase called torpor. During torpor, they may sleep up to 23 hours a day.
Sugar gliders are considered exotic animals, but they have become popular pets in some areas. Most states allow people to keep sugar gliders as pets. However, there are a few states — California, Hawaii, Alaska, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — that either do not allow sugar gliders to be kept as pets or regulate their existence.
Before you rush out to your nearest exotic pet store to buy a sugar glider, you might want to consider how much work it can be to own one. For example, sugar gliders take time — sometimes several months — to bond with their owners. In the process, they've been known to bite, which can be a danger to younger children.
Sugar gliders also have special dietary needs. You can't just buy a bag of “sugar glider food" at the store. Most sugar gliders need fresh foods prepared daily, including fruits, vegetables and insects.
Since they're nocturnal, sugar gliders can be difficult to incorporate into a household. Your noise during the day can keep a sugar glider from getting its rest. Likewise, the sugar glider's nighttime activities can keep you awake!
Like any exotic animal, sugar gliders can be great pets if you're up to the task. Just do your research and make sure you fully understand what it will mean to own and care for a sugar glider before you invite one into your family!