Australian squirrel glider, Flying squirrel, Squirrel flying opossum, Squirrel flying phalanger, Sugar squirrel
The Squirrel glider is so called due to its densely furred and bushy tail. As other gilders, this marsupial travels in trees by gliding, using a membrane of skin between its limbs. As a matter of fact, the scientific name of this small, arboreal possum means 'Norfolk Island rope dancer', although the animal is not found on Norfolk Island. These possums can often be seen together with their better known relatives - the Sugar gliders. During these congregations, Squirrel gliders typically exceed their relatives in amount.
The range of Squirrel gliders cover a huge area, stretching along the east coast of Australia, from Cape York Peninsula (Queensland) to central Victoria. They are also widely distributed throughout the coastal side of the Great Dividing Range, between southern Queensland and central New South Wales. In the northeastern parts of their range, these possums may occur in a variety of habitats, including dry and open sclerophyll forests, woodland, tall coastal forests and Banksia woodland. Populations in north Queensland are known to inhabit areas, dominated by ironbark, lemon-scented gum and forest red gum. In certain parts of Queensland, these gliders are rarely found in rainforest, instead inhabiting wet eucalyptus forest. They can also live in urban areas such as the suburbs of Brisbane.
These nocturnal animals spend the daytime hours in their nests, which are typically located inside tree hollows. As arboreal animals, Squirrel gliders construct their dens in trees, growing on steep slopes. Each individual may have multiple dens, although it will mainly use only 1 - 2 of them. Their dens are located close to areas, where these animals spend their nighttime hours. During the day, a Squirrel glider will use dens, placed at an average distance of 218 meters from each other. Families of Squirrel gliders usually consist of one adult male, one or more adult females at their offspring of that season. On their foreheads, male gliders possess special scent glands, by which they mark their territories, thus announcing of their presence. In order to communicate with conspecifics, they use vocalizations such as gurgling chatters, soft and nasal grunts as well as and repetitive, short gurgles.
This omnivorous animal primarily feed upon nectar and pollen. In a case if these foods are unavailable, they can be altered with huge amount of sap and gum, especially acacia gum and sap of some eucalypts. The Squirrel gliders supplement their diet with green seeds of the Golden Wattle and various insects such as beetles and caterpillars.
Squirrel gliders are polygynous, which means that each male can mate with one or more females per breeding season. They breed in June and January. After a gestation period of less than 3 weeks, females give birth to 1 - 2 joeys. They typically yield one or two litters per year. Newborn babies move into the pouch of their mother, where they remain for about 70 days. Weaning occurs at around 76 days old, while their eyes open only by 84 - 85 days old. Coming out of maternal pouch, young gliders continue living in the nest for the following 40 - 50 days. And finally, at 110 - 120 days old, joeys begin emerging from the nest in order to forage with their mother. Females of this species are ready to produce offspring at 1 year old.
Although classified as Least Concern, Squirrel gliders are threatened by a number of factors. Thus, these animals are highly threatened by introduced predators such as cats or foxes. In the southern parts of their range, Squirrel gliders suffer from clearing of their woodland habitat, which is altered with agricultural land or used in forest operations. As a result, they lose many of the tree hollows, which are vital life condition for these possums, using them as nesting sites.
According to IUCN, the Squirrel glider is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC), although its numbers are decreasing.