Your Joey's Appearance & Characteristics
An adult sugar glider is about 6 inches long from its head to the base of its tail. Its tail is usually about the same length or a bit longer. Although there are now many different "color varieties" available, for the sake of this site, I will keep my discussion focused on "Classic Grays". Sugar gliders have gray backs and a cream-colored belly. A black stripe runs the length of the back and up over its head. The tip of the tail is also black, and there are small black stripes along the edges of its gliding membrane.
Sugar gliders have specialized teeth that were designed for stripping bark from a tree in the wild. The lower front teeth are quite long and the upper front teeth are somewhat short. Unlike rodents, Sugar Gliders teeth do NOT continue to grow throughout their lifetime. There are reports that some pet shops & veterinarians will offer to trim or file down sugar gliders' teeth. Never allow this to happen to your glider since they will not grow back!
Bittah shows her Patagium while in flight on 1/13/05.
The gliding membrane is actually called a patagium. It extends from the smallest digit on the forefoot to the "thumb" on its hind foot. When your glider jumps, these membranes stretch out and allow the glider to glide for many feet. In the wild, when jumping from tree to tree, sugar gliders can glide up to several hundred feet. Do not be surprised if your glider jumps onto you from quite a distance away: this is not unusual, but it can be quite startling at first. Joeys, normally, do not start jumping until they are about 3 months out-of-pouch (o.o.p.). They take very small jumps at first and will increase the distance as their confidence builds.
Gizmo carries chain links with his semi-prehensile tail
Your joey's tail is used in gliding as a rudder to control its direction of flight and is also used to maintain its balance (notice the position of Bittah's tail in the photo of her flight, above). Although its tail is strong, it is not prehensile: which means that it cannot hang by its tail. It is semi-prehensile: which means it can use its tail to pick up small items to carry back to its nest. My gliders love to take milk-cap rings and plastic chain links back to their nest. It is fascinating to watch them flip the ring over their head, wriggle it down over their body into the curli-cued loop of their tail, then carry it to their pouch. Never pick your joey up by its tail: it could become injured quite easily.
Hands and Feet
Sugar gliders have five digits on their hands, which are shaped like a small fan. Their feet also have five digits, one of which is an opposable thumb (called a hallux) that doesn't have a claw. The two digits closest to the thumb are fused together up until the last joint: this is a built-in comb that they use for grooming and the claws on these two digits should never be trimmed.
As a marsupial, the female sugar glider has a pouch on her abdomen. The joey is born after only 16 days in the uterus, then it moves up to the pouch where it continues to develop for about two months. Male gliders have a furry scrotum that is somewhat heart-shaped and about the size of a large pea. Sugar gliders have only one orifice that is the aperture for the reproductive system, urinary ducts and alimentary tract—this orifice is called a cloaca. Upon occasion, the male's penis can be seen protruding from the cloaca. Because it is quite long, reddish-pink and is bifurcated (double-pronged), you may be surprised the first few times you see it. However, it is normal for the sugar glider and should not be of any concern to you: it is not to be mistaken as some sort of worm. Likewise, the female glider has a divided uterus with separate vaginae and cervices.
Coobah shows off his bald spot (one of his scent glands)
As your joey ages, you may begin to notice a faint odor upon occasion. This is from the scent glands that begin to develop as they mature. The female only has a scent gland in the cloaca and in the pouch. The male has three scent glands: one in the cloaca; one on his forehead, which is why he will get a diamond-shaped bald spot; and one on his chest, which will stain his fur around it slightly yellow. The male will rub his head on any females and/or joeys in his clan to mark them as "his". This can sometimes stain the chests of the other clan members slightly yellow. Unlike skunks, they do not use them to "spray" when they are scared; rather, they are used to identify each other and their territories. Although it is important to note that young joeys will spray when scared; however, the odor dissipates rapidly.
Another thing you will notice as your male joey ages is that his scrotal sac will start to drop away from his body periodically. This is perfectly normal and occurs to help him regulate his body temperature. As he gets warm, it drops down to cool off the blood circulating through it. As he cools off, it will retract back up close to his body. One of my male's sacs drops almost 1.5 cm away from his body at times. Rest assured it will not get caught on anything and is nothing to worry about.
A Brief Note about Glider Cleanliness:
In addition, bathing a sugar glider will severely interfere with the bond you are trying to establish with them. Gliders are arboreal in nature - which means they live in treetops in the wild. They rarely are around standing water and it simply terrifies them to be in it. By bathing a glider, you will teach the glider to NOT trust you. Their only defense is to bite and the longer the negative experience lasts, or the more frequently it happens, the harder they will bite. DO NOT, under ANY conditions, EVER bathe your glider!