Squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis)

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Squirrel glider portrait
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The squirrel glider uses a large membrane of skin between its limbs to glide through the air.
  • The squirrel glider can glide for distances of up to 60 m.
  • An agile and energetic species, the squirrel glider is able to manoeuvre acrobatically as it glides between the trees.
  • The squirrel glider lives in small family groups, which share nest sites in hollow trees.
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Squirrel glider fact file

Squirrel glider description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprotodontia
FamilyPetauridae
GenusPetaurus (1)

The squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) is a small arboreal possum which is able to glide between trees using a large membrane of skin that stretches between its limbs (3) (4). The fur of the squirrel glider is blue-grey or brownish-grey on the upperparts, with a white or cream belly and a distinctive dark stripe running from between the eyes to the middle of the back (2). There are also dark stripes on each side of the face (4). The squirrel glider’s fur is fine and silky (4), and its tail is bushy and covered in grey-black fur (2).

Although it is similar in appearance to the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps), the squirrel glider is the larger of the two and has a longer, more pointed face, with longer, narrower ears and a bushier tail (2) (3). The squirrel glider also has completely white underparts, compared to a more patchy grey in the sugar glider (3).

The vocalisations of the squirrel glider include a deep, throaty, gurgling chatter (2) (3). Like other marsupials, the female squirrel glider has a pouch in which the young are reared (4).

Also known as
Australian squirrel glider, flying squirrel, squirrel flying opossum, squirrel flying phalanger, sugar squirrel.
Size
Head-body length: 18 - 23 cm (2) (3)
Tail length: 22 - 30 cm (2) (3)
Weight
190 - 300 g (2) (3)
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Squirrel glider biology

The squirrel glider has a varied diet that includes nectar, pollen, sap, flowers and Acacia gum, as well as insects, spiders and small vertebrates (2) (3) (4) (7). Populations of this species appear to be strongly influenced by the annual variation in flowering intensity and nectar availability (8).

A highly active species (4), the squirrel glider uses gliding as a method of travelling from tree trunk to tree trunk. Glides usually encompass a distance of between 9 and 47 metres (9), although glides of up to 60 metres have been recorded (3). When gliding, this species launches into the air and spreads its limbs out, extending the gliding membrane (3) (4). It swoops up at the end of the flight to help it slow down, and uses its long claws to help it to cling to the tree on landing (3). All glider species are accomplished acrobats, able to manoeuvre between the trees with great agility during a glide (3).

The squirrel glider is largely nocturnal, sheltering by day in a nest inside a tree hollow (2) (4). An individual may use a number of different den sites, but usually has a preference for one or two main sites, often in trees on steep slopes. Den sites are often adjacent to the areas where the squirrel glider carries out its nocturnal activities, and the average distance between dens used on successive days is about 218 metres (10).

Family groups of squirrel gliders tend to consist of two to nine individuals, usually including at least one male, two females and their young (7). Group members often share a den (7) (10). The female squirrel glider may give birth at any time of year, but births often peak when food, particularly pollen and nectar, is most abundant (2) (7) (8).

The female squirrel glider breeds when over one year of age, and usually gives birth to one or two young at a time (4) (7) (8), after a gestation period of just under three weeks (4). Females have the ability to raise two litters each year (7) (8). The young squirrel gliders leave the nest after about six months (2), but stay within the natal range for around a year (2) (7). Juvenile mortality following dispersal is high (7), but individuals that survive may live for up to six years (7) (8).

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Squirrel glider range

The squirrel glider is quite widespread along the east coast of Australia, from Cape York Peninsula in Queensland to central Victoria, and inland to the coastal side of the Great Dividing Range between southern Queensland and central New South Wales (1) (2) (5).

This species also possibly occurs in Bordertown in South Australia, but the last recorded sightings there were in 1990 (1) (5) (6).

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Squirrel glider habitat

The habitat of the squirrel glider can range from dry, open sclerophyll forest and woodland to tall coastal forest and Banksia woodland in the northeast of its distribution. It also occurs in communities of ironbark, lemon-scented gum and forest red gum in north Queensland (1) (2) (5).

The squirrel glider is generally absent from rainforest (2), but may sometimes occur in rainforest or wet eucalyptus forest in parts of Queensland (1) (3). It has also been found in urban environments, such as the suburbs of Brisbane (1). This species occurs from sea level up to elevations of at least 1,200 metres (1).

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Squirrel glider status

The squirrel glider is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Squirrel glider threats

Although it is not currently believed to be at risk of extinction, this small marsupial is continually losing habitat, and the quality of its remaining habitat is degrading. This is mainly as a result of timber removal operations to supply sawn products and firewood. A lack of suitable nesting hollows in most remnant forests also results in a lack of viable habitat for the squirrel glider (1) (2) (5).

Overgrazing by livestock and rabbits, together with inappropriate fire regimes, is further degrading habitat by hindering the regeneration of trees and shrubs, while coastal development and the clearance of forest remnants in New South Wales and southeast Queensland are also negatively affecting the squirrel glider and its habitat (1) (5). In addition, the squirrel glider may be predated by introduced foxes and cats (2).

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Squirrel glider conservation

The squirrel glider is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on Schedule 2 of the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (2). It occurs in several protected areas (1) (2), but increased protection is needed in parts of northern Victoria and New South Wales, and particularly in areas of gum and ironbark from near Sydney to the border between Queensland and New South Wales (1).

A national recovery plan is being prepared for this species, which should examine the changes needed to forest management to enhance squirrel glider habitat, as well as monitor its populations across its range, particularly in isolated sites. Surveys are also needed to determine whether the squirrel glider occurs in the coastal forests of southern New South Wales (1) (5).

Other measures recommended for the conservation of the squirrel glider include further investigations into its habitat requirements and the impact of habitat alterations such as timber removal and grazing (1) (5).

Research has been carried out into squirrel glider populations in urban areas, including into the possibility of providing artificial nest boxes as a substitute for tree hollows (11). In such areas, maintaining connections between habitat fragments will be important in preserving viable squirrel glider populations (8). For example, where roadsides are lacking large trees, the installation of tall wooden poles may help the squirrel glider to safely glide across the road (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

Find out more about the squirrel glider and its conservation:

More information on conservation in Australia:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Arboreal
An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
Gestation
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Marsupial
A diverse group of mammals characterised by their reproduction, in which gestation is very short, and the female typically has a pouch (marsupium) in which the young are raised. When born, the tiny young crawls to the mother’s teats, where it attaches and stays for a variable amount of time, whilst it continues to develop. Marsupials also differ from placental mammals in their dentition.
Natal
Of or relating to birth.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Sclerophyll
A type of vegetation with hard, thick-skinned leaves; for example, eucalypts and acacias.
Vertebrates
Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Threatened Species Information - Squirrel Glider (August, 2012)
    http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/tsprofileSquirrelGlider.pdf
  3. Lindenmayer, D. (2002) Gliders of Australia: A Natural History. UNSW Press, Sydney.
  4. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  5. Maxwell, S., Burbidge, A.A. and Morris, K.D. (1996) The 1996 Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes. Wildlife Australia, Canberra. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/marsupials/index.html
  6. Van der Ree, R. and Suckling, G.C. (2008) Squirrel glider, Petaurus norfolcensis. In: Van Dyck, S. and Strahan, R. (Eds.) The Mammals of Australia. Third Edition. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
  7. Quinn, D.G. (1995) Population ecology of the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and the sugar glider (P. breviceps) (Marsupialia: Petauridae) at Limeburners Creek, on the central north coast of New South Wales. Wildlife Research, 22: 471-505.
  8. Sharpe, D.J. and Goldingay, R.L. (2010) Population ecology of the nectar-feeding squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in remnant forest in subtropical Australia. Wildlife Research, 37(2): 77-88.
  9. Goldingay, R.L. and Taylor, B.D. (2009) Gliding performance and its relevance to gap crossing by the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis). Australian Journal of Zoology, 57(2): 99-104.
  10. Crane, M.J., Lindenmayer, D.B. and Cunningham, R.B. (2010) The use of den trees by the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in temperate Australian woodlands. Australian Journal of Zoology, 58: 39-49.
  11. Goldingay, R.L., Sharpe, D.J., Beyer, G.L. and Dobson, M.D.J. (2006) Using ecological studies to understand the needs of the squirrel glider in Brisbane’s urban forest-remnants. Australian Mammology, 28(2): 173-186.
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Squirrel glider portrait  
Squirrel glider portrait

© Jean-Paul Ferrero / Auscape International

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