Do Sugar Gliders Bite?
By Lisa

Do sugar gliders bite?  Does it hurt?  How do I stop my glider from biting?  These are all common questions we get asked here at SunCoast on a regular basis.  Let me start out by sharing a comment I heard another animal breeder express.  “If it has a face, it can bite.” Logically, we all know this to be true of all animals.  This is no less true for baby animals that have been held and nurtured from a young age than it is for older exotics that never had much human handling.

Yet one thing I find totally amazing – and I actually see this happen all the time – is just how many people will approach a sugar glider with a single finger right toward the glider’s face.  And it’s not just with sugar gliders.  I’ve been to countless bird fairs and exotic animal shows in my area, and it just seems to be some form of common human compulsion to approach unknown animals in this manner.  Well, to put it simply, this is a great way (almost guaranteed) to find out if that particular animal or species will bite!

Individuals who have good animal handling skills rarely get bitten by familiar species because there are ways to approach animals in less intimidating ways.  There are ways to pick up and hold animals that will minimize fear in that animal and greatly reduce the risk to the animal handler.

For example, when I am dealing with sugar gliders that do not yet know me, I’ve found that holding my hand flat and taut works well.  I will typically hold my hand in front of the sugar glider and give it a moment or two to approach me.  Of course, not all will approach so willingly.  And gliders that are particularly fearful will strike rather quickly.  But if your hand is taut and fingers are close together, chances are greatly reduced that the glider will actually be able to open up wide enough to take a chomp out of your fingers.  If you stay alert, move slowly and honor the animals signals, you can learn to handle the wildest of gliders with very little risk to yourself.

A useful tip in glider handling is to know that gliders don’t particularly like to be held.  As they become bonded with their caretakers, they will be very happy holding on to you.  Sudden movements and tight grasps to a glider’s body will often produce less than desirable results. When beginning work with a young joey, I typically find that holding the baby individually in my hands completely cupped closed works best because it keeps the glider under my control without putting any pressure on its body.  It’s like a little hand cave and usually the first thing I discuss with customers who are able to meet with me locally.

If a young glider were to bite you, it usually does not hurt, although it can be startling as the bite is often accompanied by the crabbing sound.  Crabbing, in and of itself, takes some getting used to.  I still find it fascinating to observe a newbie’s first encounter with a sugar glider and first exposure to crabbing.  Most people have the same response, questioning how such a loud and strange sound can come from such a tiny body.

Couple this sound with a young animal that is striking toward you with an obvious mission to bite you, and these little 2-3 ounce joeys can intimidate most humans quite easily!   But keep it in perspective, my friends.  When young sugar gliders act in this manner, they are simply acting out of fear and your mission should be clear and simple.  Do everything you can to make them feel safe. Once gliders develop trust, fear-based biting will cease.

Gliders will also bite or nibble for other reasons as well.  Fear-based biting is obvious to most people.  Sugar gliders can sometimes be observed nibbling their humans.  Sometimes this nibble can be rather hard, but this is a different behavior than typical biting from fear.  This type of nibbling typically occurs when the glider is sitting quite contentedly in the hands of a trusted human and they will just start gnawing on the fingers.  It can be particularly bothersome if the glider seems to have an affinity for the cuticle area because it can hurt!

Now this may sound rather odd to many of you, but I tend to hand feed my gliders when this type of behavior is exhibited.  Say what?! Give them a treat for biting?  That sounds like rewarding bad behavior.  But while the behavior isn’t really abnormal for the glider, it is often undesirable to the human.  The glider may come to see its trusted human as the source of all things yummy.  I believe that in most cases, this behavior is the glider’s natural instinct to dig and forage for food.   It is very similar to their tendencies towards stripping away tree bark in the wild, searching for insects and tree gums.  After all, our fingers do appear a bit branch-like, right?

In most cases, offering food works quite well.  Once their little belly is full, the nibbling tends to stop.  Just keep in mind, however, you’ve just been trained for a lifetime!  So you will always need to keep treats close at hand when handling your gliders who tend to nibble (more the exception than the rule, really).

So do sugar glider bites hurt?  Well, since we consider an 8 week old age range to be an ideal age for bringing new gliders into the home, bites from an 8 week old glider really do not hurt.  But you would be surprised how much more robust a bite can be from a 12-16 week old glider!  Most gliders will strike, bite and pull back (if they are so inclined to even bite at all), but it tends to be more shocking or surprising than painful.  In fact, young gliders rarely will break skin.

Older gliders will not typically break skin either, although they are much more capable of doing so.  To see what a baby glider bite might feel like, imagine being poked by a friend with a toothpick.  It doesn’t really hurt, but if you didn’t expect it, chances are you will react.  A heartier glider bite feels a bit like a hamster bite.  You know it just happened and it may make you go “Eeeeeeek”! (or something like that), but it’s not a lingering painful event.

So remember, as you see people sticking their fingers through the wires of cages towards animals that they don’t know, take a moment to inform them that this may scare the animal.  And a scared animal with a face can – and often will – bite!

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!  And now … for more “thinking outside of the pouch” advice …here’s Arnold!

Dear Arnold,

RE: Wild Caught Vs. Captive-Bred

There should really be a sugar glider vigilante out there with long claws, a killer set of lower incisors, the ability to glide and a prehensile tail. . .Glider-Man!  And he could gut all the bad breeders and people that catch wild gliders…and maybe a few bad owners, too. *growls* Maybe I should start working on my costume.


Dear M,

Methinks ya on to sumptin here! But ya missed one important point. Gliders are colony animals, so maybe even better is a whole squadron of stealth gliders taking care of the bad peeple in bizness, cuz from the sound of things, the peeples aren’t doin a very good job! And sign me up … I’ll kick em with me good foot!

Yer friend,
Arnold T Schwarzenglider
Da Terminator
Dear Arnold,

How easy is it for gliders to escape from their cage?  I know I locked the cage last night, but this morning they were out running around having a great time while my family slept.  Are gliders really so clever?

Flushing NY

Dear Tina,

And to all me friends in Flushing … a town that sets the American Standard!  Nyuk nyuk nyuk.  Are gliders clever?  Do da fish swim in the da sea?  Do da birds fly in da sky?

YES!  We are very clever.  But obviously you knew that or you would not be writing to a sugar glider!  We’ve had many gliders here nicknamed Houdini (even babies too)!  Batten the hatches boyz and girlz, cuz if yer habitat is not fortified, you will have jailbreaks.  I’ve done it meself … that is why I’m the main man product tester here.  If it can be escaped from, broken, mis-used or generally destroyed … I’m the man for da job!

Your pal Arnold
Dear Arnold,

We got a glider for Christmas.  My daughter is in love with him, and they are bonding very quickly.  We have noticed since yesterday her forearms are very irritated and almost rash like, and have worsened since yesterday.  We think the gliders nails may just need trimming and she is so heartbroken just thinking we may have to find a new home due to this.  Please let us know if you have ever heard of anyone else with this problem and if you think keeping the nails trimmed would help or if her arms will just get worse.  Thanks so much for your time we really appreciate it!

Julie M

Dearest Julie and kin,

This is a common thing with peeples and gliders.  And you are right, our little nails tend to bother a lot of hooman skin and a multitude of little red bumps come up.  Its not what you guyz call an allergy or nuttin like dat, its just from us nailsies …. and fear not, cuz help is on the way.  By using me now famous Nail-O-Matic original and almost patented nail process, you can get rid of the red!

A little filing will do the trick, but beware of cheap imitations.  Sum dummies out there like to steal me idea, but they lost the best part of it, which is suggie paw pad protection.  This is a very important part of me original product…so while you want to use a trimmer product to make your arms feel better, you want to use my product so you don’t irritate our lil feetsies while makin yer armsies feel good.  See?

I love you!
Dear Arnold,

I have a colony of four gliders in one cage. Their names are Ferdinand, Isabella, Nina and Pinta! They are all made in America! We really love them all, but we are having a hard time making sure that the meals are evenly distributed between our foursome. What I mean to say is that whenever I serve up some big fat mealworms, Ferdinand always wakes up right away and gorges himself and the rest of the gliders aren’t really getting any. Ferdinand is getting very fat too! Please give me some advice on what we can do. We want to make sure that they are all healthy and happy!

Chris from Indiana

Dear Chris,

What a super duper question! Me habitates with three other sugar pals too and we all sort of share. Janine always wakes up close to last, but when she does, she camps on the food dish all the time and its hard for little ole me to get by her some times cuz she has a big booty! She’s s’posed to be on a diet and I do think she is looking a bit more svelte these days.

Anywho, me can gives you lots of advice. First, me friend, don’t feed the bugsters too early. Wait until all the sugar boogers wake up, then give each one their fair share by hand. Or feed ’em at your regularly scheduled time, but take Ferdinand out to hang out with you for awhile so the others can have a munchfest while you spend some quality time with your big boy. If there’s sumptin we love as much as mealies, its hangin’ with our hoomans.

So you see the answers are easy! Its duzn’t have to be a problem just cuz the early Ferd gets the worms!

Your friend,

Barrister of the Bug Buffet

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.