Why it’s a Good Idea to feed Bugs to your Sugar Gliders, Natural Sugar Glider Movements

This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough.  We have a higher mission – to be of service to them wherever they require it.”  St. Francis of Assisi

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the July 2013 edition of the GliderVet News.

Lots of people have all sorts of thoughts and opinions on the topic of feeding bugs.  Some people find feeding bugs to be icky, while others think it’s not necessary.  We’ll share our thoughts with you, based on our 15 years of experience with breeding gliders.

Another topic we get lots of questions about is regarding what sorts of physical movements are the most natural for sugar gliders.  And they also experience fascinating normal states of non-movement that we will discuss.  A sugar glider’s patagium facilitates gliding, but they are also quite adept as runners, jumpers and hoppers.  So read on about the full array of their different movements!

Before we glide in, if you’ve been awaiting the return of our Large Sturdy Cage, it’s back in stock!  As it’s roomy and easy to clean, it’s becoming a favorite of many gliders and owners alike.

Please remember that this newsletter is intended to express the wishes of the whole sugar glider community.  Every article published in this newsletter is a result of someone just like you taking the time to write us with thoughts, ideas, stories and questions.  Send your comments to us here.

If you ever want to find earlier issues of GliderVet News, you can access our archives here.  Fun pics of sugar gliders sent in by our customers are found here.  If you are looking for sugar glider tested and approved products, check out our ever expanding store here.

Are you new to sugar gliders or just in the early stages of trying to decide if one is right for you?  Questions you can ask yourself to help  make this very important and long term decision are here.  

A very confusing area for those considering glider ownership (and for some current owners too!) is diet.  See what our vet has to say here.  And if you decide that a sugar glider (or two!) would become future members of your household, then you might want to check out Arnold’s great deals on starter kits, with or without cages.

Why it’s a Good Idea to Feed Bugs to your Sugar Gliders!
by Lisa

A lot of people are really adverse to the idea of feeding bugs to sugar gliders because of the “ick” factor.  To humans, bugs can be really gross.  I know people who are terrified of roaches and spiders, and in Florida, you have a fair share of encounters with all sorts of bugs.

I would like to offer you some scientific, logical reasons why bugs are an important part of the sugar glider diet.  Please note, I did not say essential, but after reading this, you decide!  Essential is not always just about nutrition. Just as having an appropriate habitat and stimulating toys is essential to good mental health and proper activity, there are sound reasons why bugs are an important part of nutrition as well as enrichment for your sugar gliders.

Generally speaking, sugar gliders are omnivores, meaning that they need both proteins and carbohydrates in order to stay healthy.  While I respect a human’s choice to live a vegetarian lifestyle, please do not enforce this on your animals.  Sugar gliders not only need protein, but animal based protein is the best form for the sugar glider.  More specifically, sugar gliders are preferential insectivores.  Just as this sounds, sugar gliders prefer insects as their primary source of food.  In other words, the science of field studies on sugar gliders prove that people have it wrong when they refer to sugar gliders as sapsuckers.  For more details on this topic, please see this article.

This field science shows us when bug season is underway – meaning lots of bugs are available – sugar gliders will primarily eat bugs.  Bug season is also breeding season for sugar gliders, and animals instinctually know when to breed based upon best available food supply.  When bug season diminishes, sugar gliders will eat treat saps and gums in order to sustain themselves until the bug season returns.  They have to keep themselves alive, right?

So, like most wild animals, gliders have a preferred food and secondary food choices – what is available to eat.  The carbohydrates in sap give them the necessary energy to survive at times when their preferred food choice is unavailable.  It seems logical to say that if bug season was year round, sugar gliders might never eat tree gum or manna.  This behavior is survival-driven and when sugar gliders (most animals , for that matter) are in the peak of health, that’s when they breed.  This happens during bug season!

Second to this heath issue, offering your sugar gliders nothing but soft foods and no bugs denies them of a simple and natural pleasure.  Feeding soft foods only does not support good dental health.  Bugs and high quality pellet foods are two ways we can help maintain good dental health because it promotes intensive chewing action.  The vets we’ve spoken with tend to agree across the board that some crunch in the diet is essential to dental health.  Animals with teeth need a way to help keep the plaque buildup down and soft food alone won’t cut it.  Even grazing animals will chomp on leaves and twigs.

As preferential insectivores, bugs are what sugar gliders love best!  You can substitute – and I actually recommend that you do substitute – other protein offerings.  In the wild, the predominant proteins are bugs, baby birds and bird eggs.  Sugar gliders will also eat small vertebrates and invertebrates; I tried to get a lizard away from two  gliders once and lost the battle.  We use mealwormscrickets,grasshoppers, boiled eggs, boiled chicken and yogurt as our protein rotations in the weekly diet plan.

So as you can see, we recommend that you offer different types of bugs.  Finding moderation in all things dietary is what works best. Overdoing or under doing anything will likely impact your sugar gliders’ health.  For example, feeding mealworms every day is not a great idea.  They are a bit high in fat.  I like to eat red meat, but only do it maybe once per week.  I feed the sugar gliders mealworms once per week, because the other proteins in our rotation (and we only use one choice per day) have less fat content and we don’t want to let our suggies get obese.  Just as overfeeding honey and other sugary foods can lead to obesity, so can overfeeding mealworms.  We receive lots of sugar glider pictures and it is astounding how many chubby gliders are out there.  Many people are regularly using diets with a lot of empty calories, including honey and other high caloric sugars.  As with everything, moderation is key.  So it’s best to rotate your bug and other protein choices.

Only use bugs that are raised for pet consumption.  Don’t catch your own bugs, as they may have been exposed to pesticides or other environmental hazards.  Don’t try any type of bug without doing some research on it to see if it is appropriate for sugar gliders.  I’ve heard that lighting bugs are toxic to sugar gliders, and there are many more that may not be appropriate, such as poisonous spiders.

Use live bugs or canned bugs.  The moisture content of bugs is important.  For those of you who’ve had gliders for awhile, you see that they get a lot of moisture from their food.  This is clearly evidenced by the fact of how much or how little water they drink.  I know that on nights we feed melon, barely any water is consumed because the water content in melon is so high.  In that case, they are getting plenty of moisture from the food.

Moist bugs are the preferred choice, not only because of the moisture content, but nutritionally as well.  The nutrition in bugs is in the gut content.  This is why it is recommended that natural bugs be gut loaded before you feed them to the sugar gliders.  Essentially, you are feeding the bugs, so that they are nutritious.  Hungry bugs do not offer much in terms of nutrition.  Freeze dried bugs and dehydrated bugs are deficient in moisture and gut content.  

Canned bugs are already gut loaded and they are literally cooked in the can, so when you use canned bugs, they look like live, but sleeping, bugs.  They are in fact dead, and I mention this because we’ve had reports of people swearing the bugs were still alive, but it is quite impossible for that to happen.  Canned bugs are a great alternative to live bugs, particularly for those people with the very high ick factor!  You can use a small spoon or other utensil to feed the bugs, and not have to actually touch them.

For you who have tried to feed bugs to your sugar gliders and found they won’t eat them, here is an observational theory I will share with you.  When we feed bugs, our adult gliders will wake up at any time of the day and devour them.  When they have joeys, the adults will share foods and begin to show joeys how to eat when they start to wean, but my parents don’t share the bugs with the joeys.

So initially, joeys may not know what to do with them.  Sugar gliders learn a lot of behavior from other sugar gliders, and joeys, in captivity at least, are not generally participating in the bug feast.  So you may need to show them how to eat bugs.  I’m chuckling as I write this, because I do not mean this literally.  What you can do is cut the bugs up a little bit, or smash them into a favorite food.  I use a magic bullet blender and often make a puree of bugs with something else.  On Tuesdays, we feed a puree of crickets and carrots with some fruit juice (to make it moist enough to blend) for the babies.  The adults just get crickets and carrots straight up.  It is a rare sugar glider that will not acquire a big hankering for bugs and you won’t need to make a mash for long. Once they learn the taste, nature kicks in.

Sugar gliders’ animal classification is preferential insectivore and you will really have an experience of high sugar glider appreciation when you feed them their favorite natural food.  Think of any type of animal training and what is the common denominator in animal training?  Food, of course!  Denying sugar glider bugs is like trying to use algae over fish to train Shamu!  Feeding bugs to your sugar gliders is not only honoring who they really are, but also creating a wonderful enrichment for them, and building a deeper bond between you and your sugar gliders!

In summary, give bugs a chance.  But remember, don’t feed bugs you caught from outside because they may have had contact with pesticide and probably lack proper nutrition (unless you gut load them).  At the same time, don’t overdo the bugs.  If you are too squeamish, then ask someone else to do it for you!  Sugar gliders deserve bugs, just as the killer whales at SeaWorld deserve fish!

Natural Movement of Sugar Gliders
by Lisa

In the past, we’ve talked a bit about sugar glider vocalizations, and how they use these different sounds to communicate.  This article is going to be about different movements and body postures.

Sometimes a sugar glider can strike a pose that is befuddling to their human companions.  Has your sugar glider ever just sat completely still staring off into space and acting quite non-responsive to sounds and activities going on around them?  In other words, has your sugar glider ever looked like a statue of itself?  Often people will jump to the conclusion that the glider is sick, and don’t understand the posture.  I can’t tell you exactly why they do this sometime, but they are distantly related to the opossum and I’ve often equated to their version of “playing possum”.

When people get distressed is when they wave their hand in front of the sugar gliders face and get no response.  I’ve often heard people describe this like a coma with eyes wide open.  I don’t think it is at all a comatose state.  To me, it appears to be more of a meditative state, yet we know our little friends are not conscious in the way we are.  Nevertheless, that is what it looks like.

Sometimes this happens when one starts barking and it is remarkable to see what happens in a large colony, whereby most of them will freeze right where they are.  This is underlying our theory that the bark can be a warning signal to other sugar gliders, such as “predator in the area, be very still”.  The bark also seems to be a call, like “hey you, come over here and play with me”.  And sometimes, it’s just one glider that gets into this still, non-responsive state, while the others are all milling about doing their thing.  I’ve been quite curious about this myself, and I will just reach in and pet the sugar glider, or take it out the cage and hold it.  At that point, they just snap out of the trancelike state.  Point is, this can just be a naturally occurring event with sugar gliders, and should not set off the alarms that something is wrong.

The next movement we will talk about is how they run.  Sugar gliders do not scurry like a rat or a mouse.  When you see a rat run, it tends to hug the wall, and just move along at an even pace to wherever its destination is.  It is like a car on cruise control maintaining a constant speed.  But sugar gliders do not run in this fashion at all.  They tend to go in short bursts and then stop.  While I have observed some go on a more scurry-like escape route, this is more the exception than the rule.  Sugar gliders tend to run about 5-8 feet, and then freeze.  They are more inclined to continue running if you chase them.  So please don’t chase them.  They are much easier to retrieve if you move slowly and even stop movement when you get very close.

Sugar gliders are quite agile and can also move backwards, although they tend to not use that gear very much.  With most sugar gliders, if you put your hand in front of them to stop forward motion, many will stop right there.  Only a few will try to put it in reverse, but again this is an exception to the rule.  Sugar gliders prefer going forward, so if you have a new sugar glider and you are holding it in your hands and it gets its head past your hands and starts running up your chest, just put your hand in front of its head.  From here, you can gently scoop the sugar glider back into your hands.  Using their natural movements to your advantage in bonding can be extremely helpful.

A favorite activity, simply due to the nature of being a glider and arboreal (natural tree dweller), is jumping.  Gliding is one version of this jump.  When they are in a very high tree, they can glide up to 150 feet.  This is half the distance of a football field!  And whenever they jump, the patagium (gliding membrane) opens up.  This is a simple function of design that the gliding membrane must extend when the front feet and back feet are stretched out in preparation for the glide.  Most of us in single story dwellings will only really see mini-glides, because there is not enough height to achieve that long, graceful glide that can take place in the wild.  My gliders like to jump from the top of the curtain rods down to me, and it’s a glide, but it happens in a flash.  I admire people who’ve gotten photos of these short glides because it happens so very fast.  My digital camera pauses for a split second before it snaps, so the event is over before the camera catches the moment.

Many new sugar glider keepers freak out when their sugar glider first jumps off of them, because the gliding membrane opens and when the glider hits the floor, it sounds a bit like a splat.  This is their natural landing and it is quite unlikely that they will get hurt, as they are built to glide much further distances than from your shoulder to the floor.  Because they land flat, it makes the sound of splat.  This is the equivalent of a human doing a belly flop into a pool, except that those often hurt us, because we’re not designed to do that!  Sugar gliders are built to land flat on a solid surface, so no worries there, OK?

Jumping is such a primary activity for sugar gliders and as we’ve just discussed, the glide is the big version of the jump.  Sugar gliders also have a little version of the jump which is all about hopping.  They do seem to like hopping around. And this is one of the reasons that we recommend large cages, because jumping and hopping are such integral parts of their typical movements.  Vertical movement is more prevalent than horizontal movement, hence our recommendation for a cage that is taller versus wider.

Now keeping this in mind, I get tons of pictures from folks who have overloaded up large cages with toys, leaving little room for jumping and hopping.  Please remember, sometimes less is more.  I use large cages myself, and usually limit toy choices to only 5 or 6 at a time.  And then I rotate toys in and out to provide them with variety in their play activity, while still allowing them plenty of room to jump around.

I also do not recommend the use of shelves and ramps for the very same reason.  Shelves and ramps decrease the space for jumping.  I have some gliders that are just as entertained by going to the top of their cage and just letting go and landing on the bottom, then they race back up again, just to jump back down.  The habitat itself as an enrichment is as important, if not moreso, than the toys we give them to play with.  Accommodating natural movement is a primary goal in keeping any captive exotic animal.

I’m going to end this with one more thought on natural movement.  Sugar gliders inhabit trees in the wild, right?  Tree branches sway, so adding enrichments to a cage that swing or sway creates another natural opportunity for sugar gliders to feel the same types of movements that they would naturally encounter in the free range.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this explanation and are groovin’ with how sugar gliders like movin’!  And please avoid those belly busters this summer.  Leave that to the suggies, because they have a much better build for it and they can do it on land!

‘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!