Petaurus norfolcensissquirrel glider

Last updated:

Geographic Range

Populations of Petaurus norfolcensis are distributed throughout eastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, Victoria, and southeast South Australia (Nowak 1999).

Habitat

In south-eastern Australia, P. norfolcensis occupies dry sclerophyll forest and woodlands, but is absent from the dense coastal ranges. In northern New South Wales and Queensland it inhabits coastal forest and some wet forest areas that border rainforest (Suckling 1995).

In some habitats density of P. norfolcensis is as high as 3 individuals per hectare (Suckling 1995).

Physical Description

Squirrel gliders, Petaurus norfolcensis, are similar to sugar gliders, Petaurus breviceps, in general appearance, but are twice as large (Nowak 1999). They have more distinct facial markings, a longer face, and a bushier tail than P. breviceps (Suckling 1995). At times though, these two species can only be reliably distinguished by the larger molar teeth of P. norfolcensis (Smith 1979).

Squirrel gliders have pale grey fur on their dorsal surface, with a dark brown or black stripe down the middle (Barrett 1955). They possess a prehensile tail, an opposable hallux (Feldhamer 1999), and a long gliding membrane that extends from the outside of the forefoot to the ankle (Nowak 1999).

Squirrel gliders have long, sharp, diprotodont lower incisors. Their molars are bunodont, and they possess a total of 40 teeth (Feldhamer 1999).

  • Range mass
    190 to 300 g
    6.70 to 10.57 oz

Reproduction

The breeding season in P. norfolcensis occurs during June and July, with a gestation period that lasts slightly less than three weeks (Suckling 1995, Nowak 1999). During the breeding season, female P. norfolcensis exhibit a well-developed pouch (Nowak 1999) that is maintained through December (Smith 1979). This pouch opens anteriorly (Feldhamer 1999) and has four nipples (Smith 1979). In the months of January through May, the female's pouch becomes small and dry, indicating anestrus. Male P. norfolcensis produce sperm throughout the year (Smith 1979).

The typical litter consists of one or two young (Nowak 1999). These young stay in the mother's pouch for approximately 70 days after parturition. The young are fully furred at approximately 76 days and eyes open at 84-85 days (Smith 1979). The young will remain in the nest for another 40-50 days after emerging from the pouch. At the age of 110-120 days, the young of P. norfolcensis begin to venture out and forage with their mother (Suckling 1995).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    1.5
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    20 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Squirrel gliders are nocturnal, arboreal animals that utilize a membrane stretching between fore- and hindlimbs to move from tree to tree (Nowak 1999). They nest in tree hollows where they construct a bowl-shaped nest lined with leaves (Suckling 1995).

Typical family groups consist of a mature male of over two years of age, one or more adult females, and the young of that season (Suckling 1995). In captive situations, established family groups have been reported to attack newly introduced individuals (Nowak 1999) and antagonistic behavior has been displayed between communitites of P. norfolcensis (Smith 1979).

Males have well-developed scent glands on their foreheads which they use to mark their territory (Suckling 1995).

Squirrel gliders exhibit some vocal communications. They produce gurgling chatters; soft, nasal grunts; and repetitive, short gurgles (Suckling 1995).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The squirrel glider is an omnivorous species. Typical foods in the diet of P. norfolcensis include insects (mainly beetles and caterpillars), acacia gum, sap from certain eucalypts, nectar, pollen, and the green seeds of the Golden Wattle (Nowak 1999). Nectar and pollen are the most important dietary items, but in the absence of these foods the squirrel glider will more heavily utilize sap and gum (Nowak 1999).

Conservation Status

The squirrel glider may be endangered in the southern part of its range, due to the mass clearing of woodland for agriculture and forest operations. This impacts P. norfolcensis by decreasing the abundance of tree hollows which it relies on for nesting sites (Suckling 1995).

Lunney (1987) found that the effects of logging, especially when compounded with exposure to drought and fire, have a negative impact on glider species, reducing the habitability of an area. Deep gullies, unaffected by logging, were found to be crucial refuges for gliders. It is recommended that these gullies be maintained and protected in order to conserve habitat for all species of gliders.

Other Comments

All lesser gliding possums (family Petauridae) have long life spans in captivity. The maximum recorded for P. norfolcensis is 11 years, 11 months (Nowak 1999).

Contributors

Barbara Lundrigan (author), Michigan State University, Melinda Girvin (author), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Barrett, C. 1955. An Australian Animal Book. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Feldhamer, G., L. Drickamer, S. Vessey, J. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Lunney, D. 1987. Effects of Logging, Fire and Drought on Possums and Gliders in the Coastal Forests near Bega, N.S.W.. Australian Wildlife Research, 14: 263-274.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, volume 1. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Smith, M. 1979. Observations on Growth of -Petaurus breviceps- and -P. norfolcensis- in Captivity. Australian Wildlife Research, 6: 141-150.

Suckling, G. 1995. Squirrel Glider. Pp. 234-235 in R Strahan, ed. Mammals of Australia. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.