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Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship

Mating system

  • Flexible, depending on food availability (Jackson 2015b)
  • Often polygynous (males mate with multiple females) (Quin 1995; Jackson 2015a)
    • Offspring sired by one or two dominant adult males in each group (Nowak 2018a)
  • Monogamy may occur in locations where food is very limited (Quin 1995)

Reproduction

Breeding

  • Sexual maturity
    • Approximately 12 to 18 months of age (Jackson 2000c)
  • Breeding season
    • Northern Australia and New Guinea
      • Breed throughout the year (Howard 1989; Jackson 2000c; Nowak 2018a)
      • Peak in late dry to early wet season (Jackson 2015a)
    • Southeastern Australia
      • Single breeding season that begins in winter or early spring (Suckling 1984; Jackson 2015a; Jackson 2015b)
        • June to November (Smith 1973; Flannery 1995)
    • Young weaned when insects are abundant (spring) (Lindenmayer 2002; Jackson 2015b)
      • Insects allow mother to produce protein-rich milk for young
  • Females have a pouch with teats to suckle young (Smith 1973; Suckling 1984)
    • During nonbreeding season, pouch is shallow and thin walled
    • About three months before birth of young, pouch deepens and becomes more stiff
    • Shrinkage after birth of young or if no young produced
  • All females in a group breed (Jackson 2015a)

Gestation and Birth

Gestation

  • Gestation period
    • 15 to 17 days [data from managed care; n = 3] (Smith 1971; Jackson 2015b)
  • Litter size
    • Typically 2 young (Jackson 2000c; Salas et al. 2016)
      • Less commonly, 1 young (e.g., Suckling 1984)
      • Rarely 3 young (Smith 1971; Collins 1973)

Birth

  • Weight at birth
    • 0.19 g (0.0067 oz) [data from managed care; n = 2] (Smith 1971; Jackson 2015b)
  • Born with well-developed forelimbs and sense of smell (Holloway and Geiser 2000; Jackson 2015b)
    • Climb to mother’s pouch
    • Attach to one of four teats
  • Also see “Newborn” in Life Stages

Interbirth interval

  • Females produce 1 to 2 litters per year (Quin 1995; Jackson 2000c)
    • Produce a second litter if the first dies or is weaned before the end of the breeding season (Smith 1971; Quin 1995; Jackson 2015b)

Parental Care

General

  • Little known about the parental care of lesser gliders in the wild (Jackson 2015b)

Investment in care

  • Paternal involvement requires further study (Jackson 2015a)
    • Females and males care for young (Goldingay 2010; Jackson 2015a)
      • Sadler and Ward (1999) report an adult male grooming young in a nest
  • Family members keep young warm while mother forages (Holloway and Geiser 2000; Goldingay 2010; Nowak 2018a)
  • Mother must provide more milk after young are able to thermoregulate, leave the pouch, and are more active (Jackson 2015b)
    • Young use about 6 times more energy after gaining ability to thermoregulate
  • Maternal care ends after weaning (Henry and Suckling 1984)
    • About 4 months after birth (Lindenmayer 2002)

Defense of young

  • All adult group members defend young (Smith 1971)

Life Stages

Newborn

  • Birth
    • No fur (like other marsupials) (Holloway and Geiser 2000)
      • Regulation of body temperature begins at about 100 days old (Holloway and Geiser 2000; Jackson 2015a)
    • Pinkish in color (Smith 1973)
      • No skin pigments
  • 12 to 14 days
    • External indicators of sex present (Smith 1971)
  • 30 days
    • Fine fur begins to grow (Smith 1971)
  • 40 days
    • Release of mother’s nipple (Smith 1971)
  • 60 days
    • Young become too large for pouch (Smith 1973)
  • 70 days
    • Young leave pouch (Collins 1973; Smith 1973)
      • Remain in group nest, while mother forages, for an additional 40 to 50 days (Suckling 2008)
    • Full development of fur (Smith 1971)
    • New behavior: “curl into a ball,” as observed in adults (Holloway and Geiser 2000)
      • Reduces heat loss on less furred underside
  • About 80 days
    • Eyes open (Collins 1973)
  • About 90 days
    • Young show defensive behaviors towards non-group members (Schultze-Westrum 1969)
  • Also see “Birth” in Gestation and Birth

Juvenile

  • By 110 days
    • Transition to juvenile stage of development (Holloway and Geiser 2000)
      • Body covered in fur
      • Improved coordination
  • 110 to 120 days
    • Young leave nest and forage alongside mother (Collins 1973; Smith 1973)
    • Soon independent (Fleay 1947)

Adult

Longevity

In the wild

  • Typical lifespan of 4 to 5 years (Suckling 1984; Flannery 1995; Suckling 2008)
    • Maximum: 9 years (Suckling 1984; Klettenheimer et al. 1997)

In managed care

  • Long-lived (Weigl 2005; Nowak 2018a)
    • Maximum lifespan of about 17 years

Mortality and Health

Survival rates

  • Highest mortality in first 12 to 15 months of life, when dispersing from natal group (Suckling 1984; Quin 1995; Jackson 2015b)
    • Preyed on by birds, large lizards, and feral cats (Suckling 1984)
  • Starvation possible when food is scarce (Körtner and Geiser 2000)
  • Breeding success varies from year to year (Suckling 1984; Lindenmayer 2002)

Predators

  • Birds of prey
    • Owls (Ninox and Tyto spp.) (e.g., Fleay 1947; Henry and Suckling 1984; Suckling 1984; Jackson 2000c; Kavanagh 2002; Bilney et al. 2010; Bilney 2013)
    • Kookaburras (Suckling 1984; Suckling 2008)
  • Reptiles
    • Pythons (Jackson 2000c; Suckling 2008)
    • Goannas (monitor lizards; Varanus spp.) (Suckling 1984; Suckling 2008)
  • Mammals
    • Feral cats (Suckling 1984; Jackson 2000c; Suckling 2008; Johnson 2011)
    • Possibly fox (Henry and Suckling 1984; Suckling 2008)

Accidental death

  • Entanglement in barbed wire (used to fence land) (Lindenmayer 2002; Council 2010)

Diseases

  • See Jackson (2003), Johnson and Hemsley (2008), and Johnson (2011)

Parasites (non-comprehensive list)

  • Mites (Smith 1973)
  • Ticks (Smith 1973)
  • Fleas (Lindenmayer 2002)
  • Sporozoans (Smith 1973)
  • Trematodes (Smith 1973)
  • Nematodes (Lindenmayer 2002)
  • Toxoplasmosis [wild and outdoor managed care settings] (Johnson 2011)

Dozing Youngster

Young sugar glider in blanket

As newborns, sugar gliders depend on heat generated by their nest mates to stay warm. The fine, silky fur of a youngster grows in by 70 days of age.

Sugar gliders of all ages curl into a ball position to reduce heat loss through their sparsely furred underside.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

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