So, you’re ready to take a cute sugar glider home? Sounds like fun!
Despite your excitement, taking care of a sugar glider might be a bit tough in the beginning because it’s an exotic animal. This is why many pet owners will ask different questions regarding its behavior, including the following one:
Do sugar gliders hibernate in winter?
No, sugar gliders don’t hibernate. Instead, they maintain a state of semi-hibernation when it’s cold to conserve their energy until the weather gets warm again.
When the bad weather ends, sugar gliders can return to their normal activity levels within minutes.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything related to how sugar gliders behave in cold weather and the truth behind their torpor. You’re welcome to join us on this ride!
When an animal goes through hibernation, it experiences a phase of dormancy during the coldest months of the year to save its energy and not have to forage for food. What happens with sugar gliders is a bit like hibernation but on a smaller scale.
See, when this tiny, adorable creature faces rainy or cold weather, it goes through a state of torpor. It’ll simply readjust its body temperature so that it becomes as low as 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
By reducing its internal temperature, a sugar glider allows all the energy produced by its body to target essential organ functions to keep it alive. This takes so much load off having to maintain its body’s temperature until the bad weather goes away.
Unlike hibernation, torpor usually lasts for only half a day in the case of sugar gliders. Plus, a sugar glider can step out of torpor whenever it wants and go back to its ordinary metabolic state within minutes, which isn’t the case with hibernation.
Sugar gliders are native to Australia; more precisely, the South Eastern parts. The temperatures don’t drop too low over there, so it only makes sense that these little animals won’t be accustomed to cold weather if they’re kept as pets in other areas of the world.
When the temperature gets below 60 to 70 degrees, sugar gliders begin to find a warm spot in their surroundings to curl into a ball inside it and conserve their body heat. Or, they’ll just enter torpor to save their energy until the weather gets better.
Still, you should know that pet sugar gliders don’t go into torpor as often as their wild siblings do.
Those in captivity rarely have to face too cold weather because most indoor environments have central heating. Plus, there’s usually enough food to keep them from having to resort to torpor.
The way sugar gliders behave during torpor, and even before it, is pretty fascinating. As a pet owner, you’ll want to know how the process goes in-depth in case it happens on your watch.
It all starts in the few months before winter arrives; from May to December. During this period, sugar gliders in the Australian wilderness eat huge amounts of food to get their bodies ready for when the food sources become scarce in the winter.
Then, once the weather becomes too cold, sugar gliders face the challenge of trying to keep their body heat intact. If they remain at their normal activity levels, they risk consuming all their energy quickly to maintain their body temperature in the cold.
With the lack of food, that could lead to their demise in a short time.
Thankfully, sugar gliders don’t let this happen; they control their internal temperature so that it drops significantly.
Also, they reduce their metabolic activity to great degrees to direct all the energy toward keeping them alive in this dormancy state.
When the bad weather is over, sugar gliders restore their original body temperature and activity levels to start foraging for food.
Scientists still don’t know how these small mammals raise their temperature in a matter of minutes. Hopefully, further research will clear that mystery up one day, but until then, it’s definitely something to marvel at!
The duration in which sugar gliders remain in torpor varies according to several factors including weather conditions, food needs, etc. However, a sugar glider can stay in torpor anywhere from two to 24 hours, although half a day is the average.
Sometimes, a sugar glider will get out of its torpor state, even if the weather is still cold, to forage for food. Usually, that’ll happen during the period from sunset to sunrise, and then the tiny being will go back to torpor during the day until the temperatures go up.
Other times, if a sugar glider faces difficulties to prevent it from foraging, it’ll just remain in its state of dormancy until the bad weather ends.
On extremely cold nights, sugar gliders will typically not risk coming out of their torpor to search for food. They’ll just wait until the cold is over, kept alive by their minimal energy consumption.
Now, you’re probably aware of how hibernation and torpor are different from each other with only a few similarities.
To make the picture even clearer, here’s a quick comparison between these two survival mechanisms.
- It can happen during other seasons aside from winter
- Other things might lead a sugar glider to enter torpor, such as illness
- It usually lasts for less than 24 hours
- A sugar glider can wake up during torpor to forage, then go back to its dormancy state
- It only happens in winter
- It isn’t caused by sickness
- It can last anywhere from several days to a few months
- Animals are unable to restore their normal activity and temperature levels during hibernation to look for food
Even though the controlled atmosphere surrounding your pet will probably keep it from going into torpor, it’s still a possibility that you should be ready for. If you aren’t, you might falsely think that your sugar glider is dead due to its complete stillness and low temperature.
This is why you need to become more familiar with the signs of torpor in sugar gliders:
- Cold and stiff body (sometimes as cold as ice)
- Huddling away in a small, dark warm place
- No movement when you touch it
- Slow, almost undetectable breathing
On the other hand, a sugar glider that has passed away will be associated with a foul odor, or, more often, obvious mutilation of the body.
There isn’t much you can do if your sugar glider enters torpor; you’ll just have to wait until it wakes up from this state when it’s ready.
However, if you suspect that your sugar glider might go into torpor during the winter, here are a few tips to make your little buddy more comfortable in its extended sleep.
- Provide your sugar glider with several hidden locations to stay in while it’s in torpor (make them as warm and inviting as possible)
- Ensure that your friend has adequate amounts of food and water during the months before winter
- Maintain the day-night cycle that sugar gliders follow in the wild to know when to lay dormant and when to forage (you can do that by turning the light in your pet’s enclosure on and off with the rising or setting sun)
- Don’t move or disturb your sugar glider in the middle of its torpor phase
If you don’t want your cute pet to go through the discomfort of cold weather in winter, there are several things you can do so it doesn’t need to go through torpor.
- Place a heat source close to the enclosure (heat lamp, ceramic heat emitter, etc.)
- Move the sugar glider’s enclosure to a warmer room that isn’t prone to cold drafts
- Choose a substrate that promotes warmth (corn cob, recycled or shredded paper, wood shavings, etc.)
Do sugar gliders hibernate?
It’s a fair question to ask as a beginner sugar glider keeper because these exotic animals aren’t as popular as cats and dogs. So, taking care of one isn’t exactly general knowledge.
Hopefully, by now, you know that sugar gliders don’t hibernate. Instead, they’ll go into torpor, which means that they’ll reduce their metabolism and temperature levels to conserve energy during the cold.
Usually, pet sugar gliders don’t need to become torpid in the winter because there’s enough food for them to eat and the temperature is warmer indoors.
Still, you should be prepared for this to happen anyway by understanding the signs of torpor and how to act if it occurs. After reading our article, it shouldn’t sound so intimidating anymore, right?
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house. Growing up, I had pet dogs, cats, deer, sugar gliders, chinchillas, a bird, chickens, fish, and a goat.