Nocturnal sweet tooth

sugar glider 2 Lesley Nicklason

Nocturnal sweet tooth

SEPTEMBER 2015 | Sara Lloyd

IN 2015 RESEARCHERS using remote camera technology ‘captured’ Sugar Gliders eating females, eggs and chicks of Swift and Orangebellied Parrots and filmed one at the nest of a Forty-spotted Pardalote.

The small marsupials (20 cm from nose to tip of tail) have also been photographed feeding on other cavity nesters including Blue-winged Parrot, Green Rosella, Tree Martin and Striated Pardalote.

The Sugar Glider is widespread on mainland Australia with some debate as to its status in Tasmania.

In his book The Furred Animals of Australia (1957) Ellis Troughton wrote that it was introduced in 1835 but its “wide distribution [in Tasmania] suggests that it may have been indigenous, and possibly overlooked because of its shy habits.”

However, the absence of skeletal remains in subfossil deposits in Tasmania and lack of an Aboriginal name is regarded as further evidence that it was introduced.

Whether indigenous or introduced, the nocturnal Sugar Glider is now widespread in Tasmania. Its common name comes from the abundance of honey, sugar and jam eaten by captive animals and its ability to glide distances of up to 90 meters using the membrane that joins its front and back limbs.

In its natural habitat it is omnivorous and opportunistic and has been recorded feeding on invertebrates, acacia gum, the sap of eucalypts, lizards, small birds, nectar, acacia seeds, bird eggs, pollen, fungi and native fruits.

Its long front incisors may be for tearing young branches to get at the juicy wood, or they may be for cutting bark to initiate a sap flow.

Wild Sugar Gliders exhibit a ‘spit-fire temper’ with biting and scratching — certainly not the temperament of the ‘excellent pets’ they are reputed to be.

The Sugar Glider is now implicated in sending threatened species closer to the brink of extinction.

But should the blame be apportioned instead to those responsible for land management practices that have caused such a reduction in old growth hollow-bearing trees that all cavity nesters are being forced into ever smaller patches of forest?

 Mike Moores