Will a sugar glider die if left alone? 

By Lisa

Dear SunCoast,

I have one male glider that I got when he was 4 months old.  He is a 
year old now and seems healthy and happy.  After I spent all my money on him (and maybe a few other things) I talked to someone that said I may as well consider him dead if I don’t get another one soon.  Although he was wrong, I still thought the glider would be happier with a friend.  The glider I have is neutered, so I figured when I bought it if it can’t breed who cares.  Now I get second thoughts when he cries out in the night, looking for friends.  I got a big cage recently and was about ready to ask if an older glider (a year old), that’s been alone for about 8 months would be ok in the same cage with a new companion.  Then I got this newsletter.  So I guess my question is: Is it too late?

Dear Anonymous,

This is a great question and one we get asked often.  I do believe that over time, gliders tend to forget their true nature.  Gliders are very much creatures of habit and if the status quo has been as a single kept critter, they do often get used to their circumstances.  Please do not read this to mean or insinuate that just because they don’t die, they are happy.

I often hear people say that they WILL die if kept alone.  This is an absolute statement that cannot be supported by existing evidence.  But it does apply in some cases.  Fact is, some gliders will die from starvation, if they refuse to eat.  This is an extreme example of depression.  Single kept gliders often show some signs of depression and one of those signs may be under-eating or refusal to eat at all.   The cause of death is a result of starvation.  And I think we can safely surmise that the depression which caused the act of starvation was brought on by lack of companionship.

Most indicators show that single kept gliders often tend to over-eat and become obese and sluggish.  Of course, this is not healthy.  Overeating is likely a sign of boredom.  Gliders can get bored easily and is one of the reasons we recommend large cages with lots of toys.  We also emphasize portion control, even for gliders with buddies.  Some gliders over-eat and it seems to be a more common predicament with those that are kept solo.

We’ve also discussed the extreme and brutal behaviors of self mutilation in last month’s newsletter.  This is another sign that can develop as a result of being kept alone.  Gliders often groom each other; this is an integral part of their social interaction and one that is not met just because they get to hang out with their human for several hours each day.  Some things we can’t do for them.  When gliders groom themselves excessively, escalation into more serious behavior patterns may result in self mutilation.  Not all self mutilators result from behavioral dysfunction.  It could be medical as well and gliders kept with buddies have been known to exhibit this disorder.

The most puzzling cases of all are the aptly labeled “mystery deaths”. The gliders are eating normal, well-balanced portions, not over grooming or self-mutilating, but just seem to lie down and die.  It’s as if they have lost the will to live.  Unfortunately I’ve experienced some of these events personally.  I try my best to re-colonize critters that have recently lost their mates.  This is problematic when you have animals that have been together for many years.  In some cases, it seems like certain gliders pine for a particular friend and a replacement friend will not always fill the void.  More often than not, we can re-colonize the widows or widowers with great success.  But not always.  Gliders develop very strong connections.  It is that very quality that makes them great pets, but it also leads us to believe that they can get broken hearts. 

The thing we want to do is to lessen the risks of any bad behavior patterns through proper husbandry.  All we can really control is the level of risk in keeping exotic pets.  The risk factors for a variety of undesirable patterns increase greatly when gliders are kept solo.

But when is it “too late” to introduce a companion?  Is a successful introduction guaranteed?  All I can say in response to this is that the older the animal is, the less inclined that animal may be to accepting a new companion.  I do not think a year old is too old to try.  I do not think two years old is too old to try.  But once you start getting much past that, I think again the risk factor increases.  And the only introductions that I think one can guarantee is with young joeys.  Younger animals are much more malleable than their more mature counterparts.  As gliders get older, the sense of territoriality increases.  Some strong minded gliders may never accept certain companions and will be fine with others.  But the only way to figure this out and know for sure is to try it by following proven introduction techniques.  In your case, I would encourage you to find a similarly aged glider and introduce them over a period of time.  I find neutered males are less territorial than intact males or females and are typically the easiest of the mature animals to re-colonize.

Report from the Community: 
Happiness is having a friend to call your own!

Dear SunCoast,

We got our first glider a month ago.  He is a year and a half old.  He had been living singly since they (the previous keepers) got him.  He seemed fine, but since I kept reading over and over that they need to be in colonies, we got another one, approximately the same age that had also been raised alone.  

I can’t tell you the difference in his behavior.  He’s up earlier, they play all night, he’s eating better.  I can’t explain, but they just seem “happier”.  The second one we got was fairly tame, but hadn’t been handled a lot recently.  The first one was quite wild and immediately bit if I tried to handle him.  I work with them constantly, but the difference when I got the second one was definitely noticeable.  He is now tamer than the second one we got.  If I put my hand in the cage, day or night, he pops up out of his bag to check it out and usually jumps right to my arm to come see me for a bit.  I definitely believe they should be in groups!  And, I am very lucky that I found two that get along so well right off. 

Dear Sonja,

Your story is actually indicative of what typically happens when you bring a new pal around for your single sugar glider.  I appreciate you sharing it with us.

We feel obligated to tell our subscribers about the other stuff that could happen, but in most cases, your experience is the norm; I’ve seen it many times.  Single glider gets pal.  Happiness indicator zooms up in a major league move.  It’s hard for folks inexperienced with gliders to know if they are happy or not.  You have to live with them, lots of them, to really appreciate how different their personalities are and how they each express their version of happiness in their own way.  Your story goes right to the heart of the point we so often try and share.  Thanks!

Why do gliders bark?

By Lisa

Hi Lisa,

I’ve emailed you once before about my two gliders appropriately named Thing one and Thing two.  My question is about barking.  I have read it is used for locating other members of the group, but Thing one will bark and bark and Thing two just sits there very still, almost as if she is teasing the other one.  Do they have the capability to actually tease each other or is there some other reason she sits very still while the other is barking.  I can usually quiet her by going to the cage and petting and talking to her, but she seems to do this almost every night.  In the wild, would one glider respond to another glider’s barking?  Should I be concerned that Thing two does not respond in some way?  Should I be concerned that Thing one does this most every night?

Your input about this would be most helpful to me.  Your prompt response to my last email was amazing!  Oh, and by the way, I had purchased Zookeeper’s secret for my gliders and have been mixing the old food I had with yours as to not upset their diet.  Well, it didn’t really matter because they pick out all the Zookeeper’s Secret and won’t eat any of the old food anymore!  They love Zookeeper’s!

Danielle H
Dear Danielle,

We believe that gliders bark for different reasons, none of which is to tease another glider.  Let me explain.  Just like a human scream may express vastly different emotions or warning, so it is with the glider bark.  You may scream if someone jumps out and scares you.  So you scream out of fright.  You might also scream if you found a winning lottery ticket in your wallet.  So you scream out of excitement for being able to finally buy that deluxe cage you’ve always wanted!  These are two vastly different emotions, but the sound that comes out is quite similar.

It seems that the glider bark may be used as a form of warning.  For example, if an intruder enters the glider territory, a scout glider would pass a warning signal to the others.  We feel the bark fits this type of behavior and this is why the other gliders remain motionless.  It is more apparent when you see this in a huge colony setting.  One glider barks, all the others freeze.

The other reason a glider seems to bark is a call.  Many people have concluded that their glider barks a lot because they are lonely and it’s often the barking that prompts many glider keepers to seek a buddy for their solo pet.  But do not think for a minute that this is going to quiet a frequent barker.  As you know, my pal Arnold lives with three other gliders.  Arnold barks all the time.  Well how can he be lonely with three other gliders, a huge cage and so many toys?  

I can tell you that Arnold is seeking my attention.  He wants me to play with him.  As soon as I acknowledge his bark, he stops.  I can tell his special “hey come here and play with me” bark because he is firmly situated on the main door of his cage to jump immediately to my arm as soon as the door is opened.  He tries to open it himself when he knows I’m nearby, but it’s too large for him to maneuver, but you can sure tell he is trying.  I will often acknowledge his call by going to him, but sometimes I will just bark back!

This came in particularly handy when I had two of my fuzzbutts bunking down in my bedroom.  It’s not always convenient, or pleasant to get up at 3AM to play with the gliders.  So by barking back, I would acknowledge them and could often (but not always) put a halt to the chatter.  I find the bark one of the cutest sounds the glider makes, and it’s not so loud that neighbors in an apartment building will be disturbed by this, but it will wake you up if they are nearby.

One night, Buddy escaped his cage and came into my room looking for me.  Sydney, who was one of the gliders who lived in my room, started barking non-stop.  It was one of those nights that I really didn’t feel like getting up, so I barked back, repeatedly, to no avail.  I finally got up because her barking was more rapid fire than usual and she was highly persistent to get my attention.  As I approached the cage I saw a small shadow moving along the floor and as I bent down to investigate, Buddy jumped to me.  So barking can also be used to tattle on other mischievous gliders.

The bark is a sophisticated form of clear communication for gliders.  We suspect it is used to warn, or to locate others nearby.  Try tuning in to your gliders and see if you can figure out what they are saying to you.  The clues to their language can often be seen in how the others gliders around them act.  Trying to figure out the messages in Glider-ese is a fun part of our activity here at SunCoast – and especially if you learn to talk back!

‘Til next time, in good health for you and your gliders, we sign off in appreciation of all of you who share great glider adventures with us!