When considering getting a sugar glider, do you know the differences, not only physically but behavioral and personality-wise, between male and female sugar gliders? They may be equally adorable and have similar basic needs, but certain differences may impact your decision on which gender you should get.
Male and female sugar gliders differ in their physical appearance, territoriality, and age of sexual maturity. It is essential to distinguish between them as it may impact their housing requirements, specific veterinary care, nutritional requirements (specifically during the breeding season), and their suitability as pets.
In this article, we will elaborate on all the details and differences between male and female sugar gliders so that you can decide whether getting a male or a female sugar glider will be best for you.
Quick Sugar Glider Basics
Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are nocturnal, omnivorous, marsupial mammals that are native to New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago (and surrounding islands), as well as parts of Australia. They are arboreal, and their small stature and attractive features ensure their increasing appeal as pocket pets.
Mature sugar gliders can grow up to 12 inches in length. Being arboreal, they can glide up to 130 feet between trees and mate freely in their wild habitat. Females have a short gestation period, with the main development of the young occurring in her pouch. They are social species and need to be kept in colonies to prevent self-mutilation.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Male and Female Sugar Glider
Males and females differ from each other both anatomically as well as physiologically. Distinguishing between the two sexes is relatively easy if you know what to look for, and it can be done in the comfort of your home.
The following table illustrates the anatomical differences between male and female sugar gliders.
|Males have a pendulous scrotum (the pom) located at their umbilicus, which is visualized as a raised bump on their lower abdomen.||Females have a pouch which is visualized as a smooth, flat area on their lower abdomen.|
|Males have a forked (bifid) penis.||Females have two uteri and two cervices (bilobed uterus), which join to form a single birth canal.|
|Intact males have a frontal bald spot.||Females don’t have a frontal bald spot.|
The cloaca is a common opening in both males and females. It is a single opening that connects the reproductive, gastrointestinal, and urogenital tracts.
At What Age Can Sugar Gliders Be Sexed?
Sugar gliders may be sexed almost immediately when they leave the pouch. This occurs when they are approximately 170 days or six months old, but it can be anytime from around four months old. This is due to their obvious external anatomical differences (namely, the prominent scrotal swelling on the lower abdomen of the male that is absent in the female).
As a pouch (or “marsupium”) is not always evident in female sugar gliders when young, it may lead to a bit of ambiguity or confusion for new owners who have not owned sugar gliders before. It may also lead to ambiguity when you have a colony consisting of only female sugar gliders, as there are no males to compare the apparent differences.
The marsupium of a female is often only obviously evident when she is in breeding condition, which occurs once she reaches sexual maturity.
When Do Sugar Gliders Reach Sexual Maturity?
Sexual maturity is defined as the age at which an organism can reproduce. Female sugar gliders typically reach sexual maturity earlier than males. This occurs in their first year of life (8 to 12 months old) in comparison with males who tend to reach sexual maturity slightly later, in their second year of life (12 to 15 months old).
Sugar gliders are seasonally polyoestrous (many breeding cycles within a particular season with one cycle lasting 29 days), with a dominant male mating with mature females within a colony. In the wild, the breeding season often occurs between December and May in the Northern hemisphere (June to November in the Southern hemisphere), ensuring that the young (joeys) are born and out of pouch in the warmer months of the year.
As pets, in temperature-controlled and on a nutritious and complete diet, sugar gliders may breed throughout the year.
The female’s gestation period is only 16 days, with the majority of the development of the joey occurring in her pouch.
Once sugar gliders have reached sexual maturity, they go through a period of aggression, establishing a hierarchy amongst colony members. This is completely normal behavior, and should you want to keep sugar gliders at home; it is recommended that you introduce all the females at the same time and then add a male afterward once that hierarchy has been established amongst the females.
Upon reaching sexual maturity, the average weight of male sugar gliders is 135 grams. Females weigh slightly less than males at sexual maturity, even if they are comparable in size. Females may produce 1 to 3 litters per year with an average of 1 to 2 joeys per litter; however, the male’s role in mating is far more significant than that of the female as he can more readily spread his genes through the population.
Pet Vet Tip: If you want to learn more about the female sugar glider cycle, have a look at this helpful article on our website.
How Do Male and Female Sugar Gliders’ Temperaments Differ?
Both males and females are equally affectionate, with any differences in temperament being due to differences inherent within an individual. Both sexes can be equally calm, bonded, and loving; however, they are similarly predisposed to self-mutilation if they are kept on their own, so multiple sugar gliders must be kept together in a large colony to prevent this behavior.
Both sexes can be very vocal and may become irritable and fight at the beginning of the breeding season. Both sexes can easily be socialized with humans from a young age; however, the males may have a greater propensity to become aggressive toward humans without adequate stimulation. Males also have a greater tendency than females to scent mark their territory and group members, although females may do this too.
Do Males Stink More?
Both males and females contain scent glands around their bodies that will release an offensive musky scent for various reasons ranging from defense, communication, and recognition of familiar or strange sugar gliders to indicate their readiness to breed. One of the primary uses of this scent is to mark their territory with female sugar gliders, also using urine to achieve this goal.
As both sexes contain scent glands, they are equally capable of producing the musky odor and are thus similarly stinky. The musky smell may be reduced slightly by neutering the males; however, it may not completely eliminate the problem.
Why Should Male Sugar Gliders Be Neutered?
Neutering male sugar gliders is favored over sterilizing female sugar gliders as it is a high-risk procedure for females due to their complex reproductive anatomy.
Neutering male sugar gliders is recommended to keep peace in colonies by minimizing aggression amongst males during the breeding season, preventing unwanted pregnancies, preventing pregnancy by a male whose genetics are undesirable for a breeder’s particular needs, and removing the bald spot on their heads.
Neutering may also reduce aggression towards humans and limit scent marking (which is often seen as undesirable behavior), although this is not always prevented.
It is important to note that a major complication of this surgery (amongst others, like infections) is self-mutilation at the incision site. This can be prevented and should be discussed with a trusted veterinarian before the procedure. He can also still impregnate females for at least three weeks after the surgery and should be kept separate from them for a few weeks following the surgery.
Do All Male Sugar Gliders Have a Bald Spot?
All intact male sugar gliders have a bald spot in the center of their head and chest. The bald spot (an area of alopecia) represents the location of a frontal (and ventral) scent gland and develops due to elevated testosterone levels. The bald spot tends to disappear or become less apparent in neutered sugar gliders due to the lower testosterone levels compared to intact males.
Male and female sugar gliders can make equally good pets, and distinguishing between the two sexes may sometimes be challenging to the untrained eye. If you are unsure about the sex of your sugar glider, it is recommended to contact your trusted exotic veterinarian for assistance.
Before getting a sugar glider, we recommend reading the following articles:
- What Does It Cost To Own A Sugar Glider? Your Sugar Glider Budget Guide
- Will Sugar Gliders Get Along With Cats, Dogs, And Other Small Pets?
- 9 Reasons Why Sugar Gliders Do Not Make Good Pets For Kids
- How To Calm A Stressed Sugar Glider: Signs, Causes, And Helpful Tips
- The Ultimate Sugar Glider Diet Guide: Feeding And Supplementation For Healthy Gliders
- Do Sugar Gliders Get Cold Easily? 9 Ways To Keep Them Warm In Winter
- Banks RE, Sharp JM, Doss SD, Vanderford DA. Exotic Small Mammal Care and Husbandry. Durham, NC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Caring for your pet sugar glider – NC state veterinary medicine.
- Johnson-Delaney C. Marsupials. In Meredith A, Johnson-Delaney C (eds): BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets, 5th ed. Gloucester; British Small Animal Veterinary Association,2010, pp 109–110
- Meredith, A. and Redrobe, S., 2002. BSAVA manual of exotic pets. 4th ed. Quedgeley: British Small Animal Veterinary Association, pp. 102 – 106 25.
- Morges, Michelle A., et al. “A novel technique for orchiectomy and scrotal ablation in the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps).” Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 40.1 (2009): 204-206
- Ness RD, Johnson-Delaney CA. Sugar gliders. In Quesenberry K, Carpenter J (eds): Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 3rd Ed. St. Louis: Elsevier, 2012, pp 397–400
- Schuppli, C. A., Fraser, D., & Bacon, H. J. (2014). Welfare of non-traditional pets. Rev Sci Tech, 33(1), 221-231 https://www.wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/wileapet/2/
- Tynes, V., n.d. Behavior of Exotic Pets. Wiley-Blackwell, pp.181-189.Donnelly, T., 1970. The BSAVA manual of exotic pets (4th ed.): Semantic scholar.