Acrobatidaefeathertail gliders and pygmy gliders

This small family of marsupials contains two genera, each with a single species, Acrobates pygmaeus in Australia and Distoechurus pennatus in New Guinea. Acrobates is a glider and has gliding membrane running from wrist to ankle. Distoechurus has no membrane, but several aspects of the biology of this species suggest that their ancestors had a membrane and the condition in Distoechurus is due to secondary loss.

Acrobatids are small, in fact, Acrobates is the world's smallest glider at 10-14 gms. Distoechurus is slightly larger, weighing around 50 gms. Both species feed primarily on nectar, and they both have long, brush-tipped tongues for retreiving nectar and pollen from flowers. They may also eat some insects.

These species can be characterized as members of the Diprotodontia with long, stiff hairs on either side of tail, that give it a feather-like appearance. This may originally have been an adaptation for steering while gliding. Like other members of their order, acrobatids are syndactylous and diprotodont.

The dental formula of acrobatids is 3/2, 1/0, 2-3/3, 3/3. Their molars are bunodont and quadritubercular; the upper premolars are secodont.

In the past, acrobatids have been classified with the burramyids. Recent evidence suggests that they may be more closely related to Tarsipes.

Literature and references cited

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Marshall, L. G. 1984. Monotremes and marsupials. Pp 59-115 in Anderson, S. and J. Knox Jones, eds, Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, NY. xii+686 pp.

Strahan, R. (ed.). 1995. Mammals of Australia. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 756 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vi+576 pp.

Vaughan, T. A., J. M. Ryan, N. J. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy. Fourth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia. vii+565pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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


uses touch to communicate