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Increasingly popular as exotic pets in the United States, sugar gliders are nocturnal marsupials indigenous to New Guinea, Indonesia, Australia, and Tasmania. These adorable creatures, resembling a cross between a skunk, flying squirrel, and koala, live in trees in tight-knit communities in the wild. Sugar gliders, Petaurus breviceps, are named after their affinity for nectar and tree sap, although they also feed on birds, reptiles, insects, and plants.
Striking white stripes on a brown or gray background decorate the sugar glider's soft coat. They are very small, just 4 - 5 inches (10 - 13cm) of body and 6 - 7 inches (15 - 18cm) of tail for mature adults. Large ears and large eyes go along with their nocturnal habitat, since they need acute hearing and good vision in low light. Between their front and back legs is webbing, similar to that of a bat or flying squirrel. They are vigorous climbers as their tiny feet have opposable thumbs and their long tail provides balance.
Potential for domestication has led many pet lovers to adopt sugar gliders bred specifically for captivity. In the United States, as pets they are categorized as an "exotic" creature, and each state has its own regulations for these animals. For instance, California forbids breeding or owning these animals, as well as ferrets, while Texas allows it. These friendly gliders are trainable, cute, talkative, and live about fifteen years, much longer than other small pets. However, the decision to own a sugar glider cannot be undertaken lightly, as they require much attention and care.
Of utmost importance is that sugar gliders must be kept in pairs, as they will literally die of loneliness if adopted singly. A healthy home diet for sugar gliders consists mainly of protein, with sweet treats and vegetables. Mealworms, grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects provide protein. Hard boiled eggs are an acceptable, and less squeamish, substitute. Supplements of calcium and fresh fruit ensure they receive necessary vitamins. A bird cage, with horizontal bars for climbing, allows them comfort during their sleepy daylight hours, and can even be outfitted with a fabric "pouch" in imitation of the marsupial's mother's pouch. Sugar gliders like to talk, and some describe their noises as chatter, chirping, barking, or squeaking. They are relatively clean, if their cage is maintained, and do not attract parasites such as fleas.