Yellow-bellied glider: addicted to sugar and ready to scream it from the tree tops

Name(s): Yellow-bellied glider (Petaurus australis), also known as the fluffy glider

Size: Length: body 27-33cm, tail 43-48cm; Weight 450-700g

Diet: Exudivore, feeding primarily on plant exudates (sap, manna, honeydew, nectar) and invertebrates from under bark

Habitat/range: Eucalypt dominant forests along the east coast of Australia. There are two subspecies, Petaurus australis (Wet Tropics) – which is found in far north Queensland and Petaurus australis australis (south-eastern) – found from southern Queensland to the Victorian/South Australian border.

Conservation status: Listed as Endangered in SA and North QLD, and Vulnerable in the rest of its range.

Superpower: Loud banshee scream, best described as sounding like a satanic pig going through an exorcism. Their siren call deprives many unsuspecting campers of sleep. 

Yellow-bellied glider hanging from a branch
Yellow-bellied glider, south-east Queensland. Credit: Josh Bowell

The yellow-bellied glider is the underdog of the glider world. Often overshadowed by other popular gliders, such as the sugar glider (famously cute) or the greater glider (Australia’s largest glider and fluff overlord), it’s now time to shine the spotlight on the middle child.

Yellow-bellied gliders are nocturnal and arboreal (tree-dwelling). Appropriately named, they have both a yellow belly and the locomotive ability to glide through forests. Their gliding distance is dependent on the height of trees in their habitat, with those occurring in tall forests being able to glide up to 140 metres. This allows them to travel huge distances across their home range to access seasonally varied and geographically dispersed food sources, sometimes over 2km in a single night!   

Yellow-bellied gliders make hectic calls while moving through the forest. They will moan as they take off into a glide, gurgle as they are mid-glide, and let out a couple of shrieks followed by several gurgles or wukka-wukkas when stationary in a tree. Have a listen to the call sample. Impressively, calls can be heard from over 500m away.   

Yellow-bellied Glider call recording, Yarra Ranges National Park. Credit: Matthew Lefoe

I know what you’re thinking, how on earth does an animal weighing less than a kilo muster the energy to move such distances while calling simultaneously? Well, they’re jacked up on a high-sugar diet. They’re literally obsessed with nature’s sweet stuff. They satiate their sweet tooth by feeding on plant exudates (nectar, manna, honeydew and/or sap) and get protein by hunting for invertebrates under tree bark.

Best known for their love of sap, these gliders chew V-shaped incisions on the trunk of eucalypts to harvest the high-sugar resource. They feed on certain eucalypt species, and complicating things further, are highly selective for individual trees. This can result in less than 1% of an available feed tree species being harvested for sap. Family groups will revisit chosen trees over successive seasons, sometimes for over 20 years! Select trees provide a reliable long-term food resource for populations, requiring careful consideration when managing yellow-bellied glider habitat.

A tree trunk covered in holes
Sap feed tree with recent and old incisions, East Gippsland. Credit: Matthew Lefoe

Family groups are highly territorial and maintain exclusive home ranges of 30-85 hectares. These groups usually consist of a monogamous breeding pair with offspring, or less commonly, a polygamous group of up to six individuals. They den communally in hollow tree cavities, using multiple cavities within their home range.

Yellow-bellied gliders use different parts of their home range based on food availability (such as flowering events). In a nutshell, they rely on large tracts of floristically diverse and mature eucalypt forests – older forests have more tree hollows, big flowering events, high volumes of bark decortication for invertebrates, and large trees for sap harvesting.

Populations are threatened by events that eliminate or limit crucial resources (i.e., bushfire, logging, habitat clearing and fragmentation).

The yellow-bellied glider truly is a unique native species worthy of our love, admiration and attention. They have an incredible vocal range, the ability to move great distances, and decorate feed trees with beautiful scars. This screaming weirdo deserves your vote.

Yellow-bellied glider in a tree
Yellow-bellied glider, south-west Victoria. Credit: Matthew Lefoe

Voting for Australian Mammal of the Year 2023 is now open!

More information about the voting process can be found here.

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