Greater Glider Possums (Petauroides volans) in Coastal and Near-Coastal Eastern Australia

by DerdriuMarriner

Australia’s greater gliders appear graceful in the air. They look good climbing all over tree branches and trunks. But their clumsiness on the ground makes them "sitting possums."

Watching greater gliders confidently climbing up, down, and all around branches and trunks allows wildlife-lovers to imagine the graceful beauty of possums gliding 328.1 feet (100 meters) between tree canopies. Gliding begins with bending upper forelimbs so that both forepaws nearly meet under the chin. It almost gives the impression of a prayer before a leap of faith 52.5+ feet (16+ meters) above-ground. Everything then goes like clockwork because of:
• The dark, full, horizontally-held tail functioning as rudder;
• The dark head operating as cockpit;
• The dark, outstretched rear limbs serving as wingtips;
• The furry, membranous patagium -- stretching from elbows to ankles -- working as wings.

It is a successful glide that scratches up arboreal landing sites.

Lemur-like ringtail possums (Hemibelideus lemuroides): thought to be more closely related to Great Gliders than to other ringtail possums.

illustration by Joseph Smit (July 18, 1836 – November 4, 1929)
Plate XXXI, between pages 380-381: Robert Collett's "On some apparently new Marsupials" (1884)
Plate XXXI, between pages 380-381: Robert Collett's "On some apparently new Marsupials" (1884)

 

Scientists nowadays accord a stronger relationship between greater gliders and lemur-like ringtails (Hemibelideus lemuroides) than between the former and other gliding possums (Petauridae family) or between the latter and other ringtail possums (Pseudocheiridae family). Greater gliders in fact are evolved from ancestors that diverged from other gliding possums 36,000,000 years ago and from lemuroid ringtails 18,000,000 years later. They indeed can be confused with their closest relatives because of:

  • Big, forward-facing, pale-ringed eyes reminiscent of Madagascar’s lemurs (Lemuroidea family);
  • Chocolate brown or grey white corporeal upper-sides;
  • Creamy white corporeal under-sides;
  • Full, long tails.

Lemur-like possums copy greater gliders in aerial displays. But their glides cover 6.6 – 9.8 feet (2 – 3 meters) and do not permit 90° turns.  

 

Furry, large ears and pale-ringed eyes

Dark morph: "The head of a greater glider, Petauroides volans, at night."
Dark morph: "The head of a greater glider, Petauroides volans, at night."

 

Greater gliders particularly are recognizable by their furry, large ears. The ears contrast in size with the shortness of the snout and the smallness of the head. They distract attention from the food-grinder’s mouthful of:

  • 6 incisors, 2 canines, 6 premolars, and 8 molars equally distributed between left and right upper jaws;
  • 4 incisors, 6 premolars, and 8 molars evenly divided between left and right lower jaws.

The front of the ears exhibits a clean pinkness or whiteness when caught in the spotlights of researchers seeking the greater glider’s intense white or rare red eyeshine in order to complete marsupial population studies. Under such circumstances, startled greater gliders may break their usual silence and grunt or hiss.

 

 

Coloring assists greater glider survival in eastern coastal and near-coastal Australian habitats within:

  • Eastern Victoria;
  • Southeastern New South Wales;
  • Southern Queensland.

Greater gliders avoid pine plantations and tropical rainforests for niches within:

  • Dry and wet sclerophyll (“hard leaf”) forests;
  • Forest patches surrounded by farmlands;
  • Low woodlands west of the Great Dividing Range;
  • Open coastal forests.

They cluster at elevations of 2,772.3 – 3,937 feet (845 – 1,200 meters) even though they adapt to lower altitudes. They congregate wherever they find eucalypt-dominated, old-growth, tall tree-friendly stands:

  • From Mossman, Queensland southward to Daylesford, Victoria;
  • In Mount Windsor Tableland National Park, Queensland and Wombat State Forest, Victoria.

Mature, tall eucalypts indeed dominate greater glider life cycles as venues for:

  • Denning;
  • Feeding;
  • Mating.

 

Patagium (flying membrane; skin fold), with its lighter color, is discernible from elbows to ankles.

Gloucester Tops, Barrington Tops National Park, east central coastal New South Wales
Gloucester Tops, Barrington Tops National Park, east central coastal New South Wales

 

Greater gliders claim as dens hollows in dead or living trees. They sometimes embellish their homes with leafy layers for floors and bark strips for floors and walls. They expect to circulate among 2 – 18+ spacious dens centrally located within home ranges of:

  • 3.2 – 7.4 acres (1.3 – 3 hectares) for females;
  • 3.5 – 10.1 acres (1.4 – 4.1 hectares) for males.

Monogamously-committed adults experience single- and multiple-occupancy. For example, the yearly breeding season goes from February or March to June. Mothers-to-be let their dens be homes to:

  • Fathers-to-be until newborns leave maternal pouches;
  • Newborns until independence at 9 months in the case of a male juvenile or until sexual maturity at 18 – 24 months in terms of a female.

 

Petauroides volans depicted under former synonym of Petaurista taguanoides

illustration by John Gould (September 14, 1804 - February 3, 1881)
John Gould, Mammals of Australia, Vol. I, Plate 22
John Gould, Mammals of Australia, Vol. I, Plate 22

 

Mothers-to-be annually deliver one 0.009-ounce (0.27-gram) newborn. Pre-adults emerge from:  

  • 3 – 4 pouch-confined months weighing 5.3 ounces (150 grams);
  • 3 back-riding months weighing 10.6 ounces (300 grams);
  • 2 – 3 weaning months weighing 21.2 ounces (600 grams).

Mothers identify:

  • Flattened pea-looking, 0.2 – 0.4-inch (5 – 10-millimeter) feces-eating as nutrient-recyclers;
  • Patagium-blanketing as warmer-uppers;
  • Saliva-grooming as cooler-downers.

 

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua): predator of Great gliders, especially juveniles

One of 2 juveniles with both parents: Lodden River, Newstead, Shire of Mount Alexander, Victoria
One of 2 juveniles with both parents: Lodden River, Newstead, Shire of Mount Alexander, Victoria

 

Pre-adults know to avoid:

  • Carpet pythons (Morelia spilota);
  • Goannas (Varanus spp);
  • Powerful owls (Ninox strenua);
  • Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes);
  • Sooty owls (Tyto tenebricosa);
  • Spotted-tail quolls (Dasyurus maculatus).

They mature to:

  • Coat lengths of 2.4 inches (60 millimeters);
  • Head-and-body lengths of 11.8 – 18.9 inches (300 – 480 millimeters);
  • Tail lengths of 17.3 – 23.6 inches (440 – 600 millimeters);
  • Weights of 31.7 - 59.9 inches (900 – 1,700 grams).

 

skeleton of Great glider (Petauroides volans) under synonym of Schoinobates volans):

realistic pose: the tail, longer than the body, rings around the branch
National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC
National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC

 

Mothers assume paramount importance until newborns are weaned. Eucalyptus, fermentation, and locomotion then become key survival factors until death. Once weaned, all greater gliders in fact consume young buds, flowers and leaves of:

  • Brown-top stringbark (Eucalyptus obliqua);
  • Mountain gum (Eucalyptus dalrympleana);
  • Mountain grey gum (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa);
  • Narrow-leaved peppermint (Eucalyptus radiata);
  • Ribbon gum (Eucalyptus viminalis);
  • Yellow stringybark (Eucalyptus acmenoides).

Some researchers describe reluctantly desperate consumption of:

  • Acacia phyllodes (blade-functioning leaf petioles);
  • Mistletoe (Loranthaceae and Santalaceae families).

But generally greater gliders die rather than diverge from eucalyptus-eating. They therefore expire when there is damage to the:

  • Caecum (large intestine’s entry-pouch), which ferments undigestables;
  • Digits, of which the first 2 per fore-paw and 1 per rear-paw are graspingly opposable;
  • Tail.

 

Mountain gum (Eucalyptus dalrympleana): buds, flowers, and leaves appeal to Great gliders

Kew Gardens, London
Kew Gardens, London

Conclusion: Great gliders with zero interest in gliding away from established habitats

 

Six to 15 years appears to be the greater glider’s lifespan. Attaining the maximum or minimum depends upon:

  • Globally-warming climate change;
  • Wildland-urban interfaces.

Habitat-fragmenting, human-initiated agro-industrialism exerts great influence since greater glider behaviors continue as part-adaptable, part-predictable as from the first official descriptions by:

  • Scottish publisher Robert Kerr (October 20, 1757 – October 11, 1813) of the species (now Petauroides volans) and nominate subspecies (now P.v. volans) in 1792;
  • Norwegian zoologist Robert Collett (December 2, 1842 – January 27, 1913) of Queensland’s subspecies P.v. minor in 1887.

Dietary restrictions, minimal body fat, and terrestrial clumsiness keep dusky, fluffy greater gliders from migrating. No such limitations stop Australians committed to sustaining human and wildlife populations in the Land "Down Under.”

 

A sight to gladden the eyes, satiate hunger, and shelter the body for Great Gliders: Eucalyptus scenery:

White mountain ash (Eucalyptus fraxinoides), plus two Great Glider favorites, Mountain grey gum (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa) and Brown-top stringbark (Eucalyptus obliqua)
Deua National Park, southeastern New South Wales, southeastern Australia
Deua National Park, southeastern New South Wales, southeastern Australia

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet.

 

tiger quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), also known as spotted quoll: determined carnivorous marsupial predator of great gliders

Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville, southeastern Victoria
Healesville Sanctuary, Healesville, southeastern Victoria

Sources Consulted

 

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Snow in Daylesford, state of Victoria central highlands, southeastern Australia
Snow in Daylesford, state of Victoria central highlands, southeastern Australia
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Clouds over a Lighthouse, Cape Byron Lighthouse, New South Wales, Australia

scenic landscape of Great glider's native range in northeastern coastal New South Wales
Clouds over a Lighthouse, Cape Byron Lighthouse, New South Wales, Australia

Scenic coastal landscape of Great glider's native range: Cape Byron Bay, northeastern New South Wales: photo by Jean-Paul Ferrero

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Cape Byron Byron Bay ~ Ardea Wildlife Pets

Byron Bay Lighthouse, northeastern New South Wales: photo by K. Wilson

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Byron Bay Lighthouse, New South Wales, Australia

Late Afternoon Sunlight on Byron Bay, with Mount Warning National Park Beyond: photo by Greg Elms

scenic coastal landscape of Great glider's native range
Late Afternoon Sunlight on Byron Bay, with Mount Warning National Park Beyond

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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