Seven Feathertail gliders can now be seen scurrying through the trees at Taronga Zoo’s Australian Nightlife exhibit but it will take keen eyed visitors to see them.
These tiny animals are the smallest glider species reaching a maximum of just 8cm (3in) long and weigh just 15g (0.5oz). Luckily youngsters are born grey making it easier to distinguish them from the brown coloured adults.
Australian Fauna Keeper, Rob Dockerill said, “When they’re born they’re half the size of a grain of rice, but once they get to be about one centimetre long in the pouch mum’s feet barely touch the ground. So the mothers leave them in a communal nest, taking turns watching over the joeys.”
Feathertail gliders are named for the stiff hairs on their long tail which resembles a feather. These are useful for steering and braking as they glide through the treetops.
Currently the joeys are, “probably about 13 or 14 weeks old,” stated Dockerill.
Taronga breeds two lots of gliders a year one lot towards the end of summer and another as spring draws to a close. They were one of the first places to breed the Feathertail glider and have welcomed 200 in the past decade.
Currently all of the joeys are “peeking out from their nest box and exploring their exhibit with the adults,” said Dockerill.
One Feathertail glider at the zoo is recognised as the world’s oldest at 10 ½ years old. This is a testament to the paramount care as Dockerill explained, “It’s much easier to live here than out in the wild. They’re officially classified as secure but there’s no real idea how many there are. When you’re half the size of a mouse and come out at night no one knows anything about you. You can still find these animals around Sydney but when you’re that small, everything eats you. Life can’t be easy for them out there.”
They do have a few tricks up their sleeve though to stay alive. “These animals have microscopic hairs on their feet giving them the ability to run up glass, they can glide the length of a cricket pitch and are very speedy. You’ve got to have a few tricks when everyone is out to eat you,” added Dockerill.
Photo Credit: Taronga Zoo/ Madeleine Smitham