The Yellow-bellied glider is the least studied and least known of its family. It is amongst the largest gliding possums of Australia, the loudest, and the best glider. They have a distinctive very long thickly furred mostly black tail and for this reason are sometimes called ‘fluffy gliders’. A lightly furred flap of skin or patagium connects its front and back limbs; this is used for gliding. Males and females are similar in appearance, though males grow a visible scent gland on their heads and females generally have longer tails.
Yellow-bellied gliders lives in eastern Australia, from northern Queensland down to Victoria. They inhabit open foothill forest, woodland and wet eucalypt forest. In eastern Australia they inhabit only tall, mature eucalypt forests where there is high rainfall, in temperate to subtropical climates. In northern Queensland the population occurs in forests with lower temperatures at high altitudes. The larger populations live in coastal and foothill woodland and forest, with smaller populations in wet eucalypt forests.
Habits and lifestyle
The Yellow-bellied glider is a very active, arboreal, nocturnal glider. Being amongst the most vocal of marsupial species, it has a range of calls including loud distinctive shrieks, soft moans and gurgling chatters. It is a territorial animal and so is aggressive to intruders that are the same species. In the daytime they shelter in den trees, typically very large rose gums with hollows big enough to accommodate groups of families, as they live in groups of 2-6 family members: one male with one or two females together with their offspring. Each group has a home range which is about 25 -120 ha. They may travel as far as one kilometer from their den to the feeding trees.
Diet and nutrition
The Yellow-bellied glider eats mostly nectar, pollen, and sap from eucalypts, and they also feed on insects, grubs, and arachnids and possibly small vertebrates.
A Yellow-bellied glider will pair up with another glider, usually in a monogamous relationship, and live in a single family group, although polygamous groups (in which one male mates with multiple females) also occur. Mating is from August to December in Victoria, while in Queensland it is throughout the year. Births are usually from May to September. Generally a single young is born, sometimes twins. Young are carried in their mother's pouch for around 100 days, then are left in a nest for 60 more days. Both male and female look after the young, and they become independent from 18 to 24 months and sexually mature at about 2 years old.
August-December in Victoria, year-round in Queensland
The main threats to this species are the following: the loss of habitat due to rainforest destruction, thought to be the primary one, with changed fire regimes the main reason for this destruction, and long-term climate change contributing to this. There is also clearing and fragmentation of their habitats. Timber harvesting and grazing by cattle also modify their habitat and have an impact. Barbed wire fences cause entanglement, injury, and death.
No estimate of population size is available for this species. According to the IUCN Red List resource, the number of mature individuals is between 50,000 and 500,000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as near threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers continue to decrease.
The Yellow-bellied glider has an important ecological function due to its role supporting a ‘sap-feeding guild’ and possibly as a pollinator.
Fun facts for kids
- The yellow-bellied glider’s scientific name “Petaurus australis”, has the meaning “southern rope-dancer’’.
- Yellow-bellied gliders are able to glide for up to 114 meters.
- The distinctive growling call these animals make can be heard as far away as 500m.
- As marsupials, gliders come into the world at a very early developmental stage and weighing less than a gram. Then they make their way up to their mother’s pouch and there they continue to develop.
- To extract sap from a tree, the Yellow-bellied glider chews at its bark until the cambium is exposed. Their gnawing generally forms a V shape on the trunk. The sap comes out of the cambium to run down the V channel collecting in a notch at the base, to be readily licked up.