Keeping Gliders in Colonies of Three or More – Part I

By Lisa

Most of you who know us and have taken the time to correspond know that we are major advocates of sugar gliders living with buddies of the same species.  They are, of course, colony animals in the wild and seek attention at some level twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  In most of the articles we’ve presented over the last couple of years, we tend to discuss sugar gliders in pairs, as that is the way most people keep them.  

Sugar gliders can most assuredly be kept in groupings larger than pairs, and it’s very likely to be a more natural arrangement.  But before we discuss keeping gliders in colonies of three or more, let me remind you that sugar gliders tend to make better pets if you are not breeding them.  Either parent can display protective behavioral patterns when babies are in the pouch or in the nest.

In our breeding colony, we tend to keep most of the gliders in pairs. We also keep 8 sets of trios as well.  The trios are comprised of two females and one male.  We caution you against keeping multiple males with one or more females.  In the captive environment, males will often challenge each other to earn the breeding rights.  Wild sugar gliders will live in colonies comprised of multiple males and females, but  keep in mind those colonies dwell in large trees.  When male competition takes place in the wild, there is ample space for the weaker male to get out of the alpha male’s way.

This is typically not true of captive habitats that are extremely small when compared to free-range environments.  There is no where to run and hide in most glider cages.  If you wish to keep multiple males in the presence of females, have all males neutered OR neuter all males except one.  This is a much safer colony setup.

Now we would like to share some of our colony experiences with you.  When we choose to set up trio colonies, we always let the females (unrelated) that are to become part of a future trio grow up together as joeys.  And we usually choose an unrelated male at that time as well, this way the threesome literally grows up together.  Either way, the important issue from our observations is the females should live together from as young an age as possible.  While it seems to be advantageous to have a male close to the same age, it does not seem to be as critical as the females building a personal bond from the youngest possible age.

A lone male will do quite well with two females in a breeding situation.  He will care for all the young, as any male would do with only one female mate.  It also seems that the females will, to some degree, help care for each other’s offspring.

Advantages to breeding in this manner are as follows. First of all, in most cases, the females seem to naturally have fewer babies.  We see this as a plus to trio breeding, as it extends the breeding life of the females.  In other words, she won’t have so many babies in such rapid succession it takes a premature toll on her health and weight.

Another advantage (and we’ve only seen this twice) is that if one female gets sick (or worse), the opportunity for the remaining female to act as surrogate to the other females’ offspring is greatly improved.  Surrogate parenting is an issue we hope to discuss in more detail in a later issue, but for the time being, leave it to say that surrogate parents are rather difficult to entice cooperation from.  If you’ve had success in encouraging lactating females to “adopt” another glider’s offspring, please share your information with us so we may gather as much relevant information as we can prior to presenting an article on this specialized topic.  Send you success stories to [email protected].

Next, we see a huge benefit to keeping gliders in trios or more to alleviate mourning when one glider passes or is taken from the colony for medical treatment.  The remaining gliders still have each other and the mourning that typically takes place when a glider loses its mate is not nearly as severe.  The remaining colony members continue to function quite well.

We will continue this discussion next month on some of the disadvantages of keeping trios as well as share some of our experiences with larger colonies of gliders.

…. And Now! Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Arnold!

Another Exciting Episode of …. DEAR ARNOLD

Note: Some of Arnold’s fan mail may be edited cause Arnold wants some of them to be shorter so he can have more space all to himself!  Yuk Yuk Yuk!

G’day Mates!  Before me jumps into me mailbag, thought I’d share me latest poem with ya!

A Dream
By Arnold

I had a dream that you and me
Were sittin’ on a branch in an acacia tree.
As I felt ‘da cool breeze caress me hair
I decided to glide from here to there.
I looked back and beckoned, O come this way
And I think what happened next ruined your day.
I heard a big THUD as you hit the ground
You looked pretty bad wearin’ that frown!
What?  No patagium?  You were so out of luck.
Human aerodynamics really do suck!

Hehehehe …. I’m such a silly boy!  But it is hard for me to believe that the hooman race has survived so long and can’t even hardly jump or glide or fly or nuttin!  Kinda crazy if ya ask me.

OK, now before me answers some mail this month, I want to let ya in on a little secret.  We gets lots of new subscribers every month and we are getting loads of mail with questions that have been already answered in past newsletters.  So here’s the secret, even if ya’re just a brand new subscriber, you can read all the past issues.  Me web dude, Jimbo, put together a magic linky-thingy to a page called an index where ya can read the titles of all the old articles.  You can find this on the website on the same page where you sign up for yer free news, or you can just click here.

Now back to me regularly scheduled program!

Dear Arnold, 
Now, I know that you suggies do not like sunlight which is why I opted to put my glider’s cage in the garage (with no cars, a/c and heat) where there is no sunlight whatsoever.  The only problem is that there is no sunlight whatsoever.  Do gliders need some kind of light or do they prefer complete darkness?  Should I give them a nite-light or a low watt lamp? 
Thank you, 
Chloe and Stewie’s Mommie

Hi Chloe and Stewie! 
Thanks fer writin’ …. well, let me share some factoids with ya!  The shine of the day and the dark of the night are clues we need to keep our internal clocks running right.  If it’s dark all the time, it could get us all messed up as to when it’s day and when it’s playtime.  My room is a Florida sunroom and very bright in the day, but me habitat has lots of dark little places for me and me pals to snuggle up and snooze, and the light tells us it’s time to keep nappin!

Our USDA inspector is also a veterinary doc and she said that at the sugar shack the hoomans should pull up the window shades all day, ’cause total darkness will affect something called Sir Cate Ian’s rhythms .. not that me know exactly what that means .. but it is an important thing for human caretakers to learn about.  Maybe me ask Dr C to ‘splain it better some day.  So give your suggies some light and better yet, bring ’em back to the big house.  I know you did this ’cause your house was exterminated and that was really super smart of you to get them away from the chemicals.

Arnold, Lisa here:  That was a really good explanation, but just to help you out a bit, the proper spelling of your rhythm-thingy is “circadian”, as in circadian rhythms.  And you look sleepy.

Aw shucks Lisa, what are you doing up?  It’s still dark!

Well, that’s all Blokes!  Tune in again next month for another exciting episode of Dear Arnold!  Don’t forget, you can share your short comments or fun questions with me by clicking here.

Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C Says On… Unproven Diet Plans – Part II

Dr. C., of course!

Last month we started a discussion on using human food supplements such as Ensure, Sustagen and Boost as the basis of a glider diet.  To read part I of this article, click here.

Let me start off this month by saying that I truly did not expect the quality and quantity of email I received.  Sugar glider dietary issues seem to be a real hot button within the online communities, and although I do not personally answer the emails that come in to my newsletter account, the information is passed on to me for consideration in my articles.

While I wish to acknowledge those of you who want to get deep into the discussion of nutrition, this newsletter is not designed to be highly technical.  The majority of our audience consists of beginners and it is my intention to keep the discussion basic.

I am not a nutritionist, but it only makes sense to me that a dietary supplement intended to help sick people gain weight is going to make healthy people and healthy animals gain weight as well.  Obesity is a life threatening condition and I believe that such a diet is only going to increase the likelihood of obesity.  This is my primary concern with using such a diet.  I often see overweight sugar gliders in my practice, and to support a diet that seemingly promotes higher caloric intake is likely to exacerbate what I think is already a pervasive problem amongst many glider keepers.

Next, when the human medical sector recommends the use of such products, it is intended to be used primarily as supplement and ideally not as a mainstay diet.  You see, products such as these are to help sustain an individual.  There is a huge difference between sustaining (or keeping viable) and working to achieve maximum health.

I am also aware that one of the original diets created for sugar gliders by the Taronga Zoo in Australia uses Sustagen as a very small part of the overall dietary plan.  Let me emphasize that the amount of Sustagen used in the overall diet is a very small percentage of all the other foods being recommended.

As sugar gliders are indigenous to Australia as well as a few other countries in the Australia Region, it only makes sense that we look to that part of the world to discern what a good captive diet should consist of.  This is true to some degree, but there are other things you should know as well.  Let’s look at Australia as an example.

In Australia, sugar gliders and other members of the glider family may be kept in captivity, but you will find this is only true in the zoo or rehabilitation setting.  In the zoo setting, it is the goal of the zookeepers to try and create a captive environment that is most suitable to that particular animal.  These habitats are exceedingly larger than those of private individuals.  The diets are varied and often will involve food items that private individuals will either not have access to or the stomach to feed.   For example, the Taronga zoo diet calls for the feeding of a live day old chick once per week.

The remaining group, other than zoos, that will keep gliders in Australia are animal rehabilitators.  It is their job to save orphaned, sick and injured animals to nurse them back to health and once healthy are to be released back into the wild.  You see, it is illegal for private individuals to keep native species as pets in Australia.  So while we may look to the Australians for guidelines on feeding their native species, the Australians do not keep and breed their own animals in captivity.  So basically we need to learn and develop our own captive diets that go beyond sustenance, but support health at the highest level possible.

OK, let’s get back to the discussion of using human nutritional products in the sugar glider captive diet.  Many of these human dietary supplements are filled with a lot of “empty calories” that are designed to help keep weight on low weight challenged individuals.   

And it seems apparent to me from the volume and nature of much of the correspondence we’ve received on this topic, that many individuals are feeding such foods freely and allowing the gliders to consume as much as the animals choose to eat.  I’ve looked over a few of the different versions of this diet being presented via the internet, and the quantities of food offered seem to be far too abundant, in my professional opinion.  Many of those who have used a diet such as this are attracted to it because the human supplement drinks are highly palatable to sugar gliders and many people have had problems with picky eaters.  More palatable does not necessarily mean its better for them.  I also suspect that many people are attracted to a diet such as this simply because its easier on the pet keeper.  Again, easier does not necessarily translate into better.

It is unfortunate that there is a lack of controlled studies published on sugar glider nutrition, but that is the reality of today’s information base.  Because nutritional issues seems to be the number one reason that sugar gliders pass prematurely, I feel quite strongly that glider keepers should stick with tried and true diet plans.  Malnutrition issues may take longer than one or two years before apparent signs of poor health show up.  I think that being part of an informal experiment with your own pets is unadvisable when proven diets are available.

Before we wrap up, it has been brought to my attention that four doctors at Cornell University have been asked to review this diet and offer an opinion.  From what I understand, three out of four doctors felt that the diet may be fine.  So I decided to ask the same question to several of my peers.  Of six doctors I asked, four of them felt much the same way as I do.  More traditional approaches were favored with these doctors.  And two of the doctors I asked declined to comment as they did not feel that their experience with sugar gliders was broad enough to express an opinion on diet at all, and because of their lack of direct experience, they tend to favor the more traditional approaches as well.  All in all, the general consensus was that the opportunity to misuse or overuse the human nutritional supplements is unnecessarily high in light of the fact that we already have reliable information on what works well.

As you know, we encourage members of the community to write in to me with questions and concerns about glider husbandry practices. This month, I would like to ask the questions and perhaps members of the community will be willing to share their answers with me.  I think if we can discover why people are inclined to switch gliders from known healthy diets to newer, less proven diets, we can all share in the learning process together.   My questions are listed below and you can send your answers by clicking here.

1)  If you have switched your glider to a diet using one of the human nutritional supplements such as the types discussed in this article, what encouraged you to make the change and what diet plan were you on previously?

2)  For those of you who have used this diet for approximately a year or longer, how much do your gliders weigh?

3)  For those of you currently using this diet, how large is your gliders’ habitat and how much average exercise do they get on a nightly basis?

Thanks in advance for any insight you can provide.

As always, these topics are driven by your requests, so send your questions about glider health care issues by clicking here and we will do our best to include in a future edition of the GliderVet Newsletter.   I send my wishes for good health to both you and your sugar gliders. 

I’ll see you again next month!

Dr. C.  
(Janine M Cianciolo, DVM)