Native to Australia, sugar gliders are some of the more popular exotic pets out there. They’re small, cute, and have similar behavioral patterns to flying squirrels.
Sugar gliders in the wild mate according to the changing seasons and food availability. However, this behavior changes in controlled environments when they’re kept as pets.
There used to be a lot of regulations regarding breeding them, but as of late, breeding them without a license is permissible by the USDA if you have three females or fewer.
So how do sugar gliders mate? And how can you make a positive difference in the process?
Wild sugar gliders mate in the late winter to early spring, which roughly translates to June-November in the southern hemisphere. That’s not the case for pet sugar gliders, though, as the variables controlling their mating behavior are dramatically changed.
Thanks to the abundance of food and warmth, as well as the relatively stable environment, sugar gliders can mate year-round when kept as pets. This can mean up to three litters of baby sugar gliders, called joeys like their kangaroo cousins, per year.
This all depends on the cycles of gestation and child-rearing, which usually take about four months per litter.
Since sugar gliders are marsupials, which means the joeys are born underdeveloped and finish their development inside the mother’s pouch, their pregnancy is split into two periods, followed by a developmental phase:
After the mother’s eggs are fertilized, the gestation period starts. It lasts between 15–17 days.
The average litter is 1–2 joeys, though, in some very rare cases, the mother gives birth to 3 joeys at a time.
The joeys are born very tiny, barely half an inch in length. They then crawl their way into the mother’s pouch for the next phase.
Once the joeys have reached the mother’s pouch, they latch onto one of her 4 nipples and start suckling. This period lasts between 70–74 days and is when most of their development happens. Finally, they leave the pouch fully covered in thin fur and just days away from opening their eyes.
The mother produces protein-rich milk during this time to help the joeys grow strong. That’s why it’s essential to monitor her nutrition and ensure she’s eating enough fruits and protein.
The joeys leave their mother’s pouch after about 10 weeks of climbing inside, and this marks the end of the pregnancy. That’s their official “birthday” when they’re fully developed. Within 10 days of OOP, they’ll open their eyes, and between 2–4 weeks, their fur coat will fill in.
You can expect the joeys to be fully weaned off their mother’s milk and start eating solid food about 2 months OOP. Before that, you’ll notice they rely on their father and mother for warmth as their ability to regulate their body temperature isn’t fully developed yet.
In this period, it’s important to keep the environment stress-free with an abundance of food to avoid any issues with the mother. This is crucial because sugar gliders are known to cannibalize their young when stressed or when there’s not enough food to go around.
The birthing process for sugar gliders isn’t very complicated since the size of the joeys at birth is very small, which doesn’t cause much strain on the mother’s part. In fact, you probably won’t be able to tell if she has given birth unless you catch her licking away the afterbirth.
The joeys then make their way into the mother’s pouch, aided by a mother’s trail licking. The mother licks a trail from her cloaca to the pouch opening, and the saliva helps the younglings crawl upwards.
Sugar glider females can be bred starting from 8–12 months of age. You’ll know when they’re ready once they have their first heat (estrus) cycle. There are no obvious physical changes, but if you have an intact male sugar glider in the same cage, they’ll take very obvious interest in her.
Male sugar gliders take a little longer to reach sexual maturity. They usually start mating at 12–15 months of age. You’ll know they’re ready to mate when they take an interest in females or show aggression to other males in the group.
You can breed sugar gliders when the female is in heat. The estrus cycle comes around every 28 days, during which the female is fertile for the first 2–3 days. If a healthy male is available, you’ll soon have a litter of joeys.
Female sugar gliders prepare for their estrus cycle in different manners. Some females will allow advances from males, who will usually sniff and lick their cloacas and even nip their ears.
Other females will isolate themselves from the males during that time, even becoming hostile if a male tries to approach them, hissing and growling at the male to go away. This usually means the female might be physically ready for mating but isn’t interested in carrying a litter.
Mating rituals for sugar gliders can look and sound a little violent to us humans. That’s mainly because a male sugar glider needs to establish dominance before it starts to mate with the female.
The male will usually grab or nip the back of the female while mating. And although this often goes over with no injuries, sometimes a chunk of fur goes missing, or the female gets injured.
If you notice there’s an open sore on the back of the female after mating, make sure to isolate her and treat the wound to avoid the risk of infection.
You should also try not to reintroduce the male in the cage until the wound has closed completely, as any other mating attempt might cause it to reopen.
Sugar gliders can and will mate with their offspring since they have no concept of incest. They will usually see their grown-up joeys as random adult sugar gliders after they leave the nest.
However, you should prevent this by separating the adults from their grown-up offspring. If a female sugar glider carries a litter sired by her father, the inbreeding can cause many severe birth defects or congenital diseases.
Inbred sugar gliders have a higher risk of epilepsy, as well as respiratory and liver abnormalities. They’re also sometimes born without limbs, ears, or eyes.
These congenital disabilities might cause the mother to cannibalize her joeys since she instinctively knows when they’re too sick or dead.
If you’re in the United States, you should keep in mind that the gene pool of sugar gliders available for mating is pretty small, which can cause a certain percentage of birth defects. Inbreeding significantly raises these chances, and you rarely get good results from it.
Spaying a female sugar glider is an almost impossible, incredibly invasive surgery. This is because of the females’ unique anatomy, which makes their reproductive system a large, intricate part of their bodies.
Sugar glider females have two uteri that have two vaginas for openings, which correspond with the two-pronged penis the males have. These vaginas are separated by a septum and open into a unified opening called a cloaca.
If you want to avoid a situation where you have an unwanted litter of joeys, it’s safer and easier to neuter the male sugar gliders you have than to attempt to spay the females.
Breeding rescue sugar gliders is highly unrecommended. You’ll never know what the lineage of the sugar glider is and whether any genetic abnormalities might make an appearance in their offspring.
You should also keep in mind that if the sugar glider was rescued from unfavorable circumstances, like a breeding mill, they might be severely traumatized. This kind of enduring stress can cause the sugar glider, especially the mother, to cannibalize her offspring.
That’s why it’s recommended to neuter any male rescue sugar glider and avoid putting an intact male with a rescue female sugar glider.
How do sugar gliders mate?
Sugar gliders mate just like other marsupials. The females go through a heat cycle every 28 days, during which they can mate and conceive.
Joeys usually have a very short gestation period followed by a developmental period that takes place inside the mother’s pouch. They latch onto one of her teats and nurse for the next two and a half months.
Once they’re out of the pouch, they rely on their parents for food and warmth until their bodies are fully developed. This process usually takes about four months from conception to full maturity.
After they’re fully developed, they go off on their own and are treated by their parents like other adult sugar gliders. That’s why it’s important to separate sugar gliders from their offspring to prevent inbreeding and its associated problems.
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.