Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels are both cute little animals that are popular pets. Sugar gliders look remarkably similar to the flying squirrels found in the US but in reality, these two animals are extremely different. Let’s take a quick look at the differences between these two species.
What is The Difference Between Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels?
Let’s start by taking a look at how physically similar these two species are.
Here is a short clip from the BBC about sugar gliders.
And here is a short clip from National Geographic about flying squirrels.
While both of these animals are small, cute and can glide great distances through the air they are actually extremely different.
The primary differences between Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels include:
- Geographic Origin
- Mammalian Class
- Diversity of Species
- Life Span
Let’s take a look at these differences in more detail.
Where Do Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels Come From?
When most people talk about Flying squirrels they are referring to either the Northern or Southern Flying squirrel that are native to America. In contrast, Sugar gliders are native to New Guinea, Archipelago, Bismark, and Eastern and Northern Australia (source).
However other species of Flying squirrels can be abundantly found in Asia as well. Examples include the Japanese flying squirrel (located in Japan and Southern Asia), the Spotted Giant flying squirrel (located in Eastern Nepal, Vietnam, and the Malay Peninsula), the Woolly flying squirrel (located in the Himalayas and Tibet), and the Red Giant flying squirrel (located in Afghanistan, Java, China, Kashmir, Southern China, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka).
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Are Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels Mammals?
One of the key differences between flying squirrels and sugar gliders is how they reproduce. Flying squirrels are placental mammals within the Sciuridae family. This means that their young ones live within the mother’s uterus before birth. Nourishment is provided via a specialized embryonic organ that is attached to the wall of the uterus. This is known as the placenta, hence the name – placental mammals. These mammals have long gestation times and give live birth once the embryo has fully developed.
In comparison to flying squirrels, sugar gliders are marsupial mammals within the Petauridae family (source). This makes the Sugar Glider more closely related to a kangaroo than a flying squirrel. Marsupials are pouched mammals that give live birth after very short gestation times. Newborns live inside a pouch-like opening in the mother and receives nourishment from the mother’s nipples until fully developed. Marsupial mammals give birth so early that they have a yolk-type placenta. This yolk-type placenta cannot provide adequate nourishment for a long time (as in the case of placental mammals).
Physical Appearance: Sugar Glider vs. Flying Squirrel
The sugar glider may appear to be similar to the flying squirrel in appearance, but if you examine them up-close, then you will notice some differences. Both animals have a membrane that extends from the back legs to the front legs and allows them to glide or ‘fly’ across trees. However, as mentioned earlier, the female sugar glider also has a pouch for carrying the young. This is absent in the female flying squirrel.
Sugar gliders also have a dark grey stripe on their backs. Flying squirrels, on the other hand, will sport a variety of different pelages depending on the species.
They can also be found in a variety of sizes. For instance, the northern and southern flying squirrel is an average-sized mammal (275 to 342 mm and 285 mm respectively). However, there are also giant flying squirrels. These can be as large as a house cat (the Spotted Giant flying squirrel for example). The sugar glider, on the other hand, has a body length of 120 to 320 mm long.
One notable different between Flying Squirrels and Sugar Gliders is those big eyes that Sugar Gliders have. They are the definition of cute!
Interesting Fact: Both Flying Squirrels and Sugar Gliders have long, bushy tails!
Evolutionary Diversity In Sugar Gliders & Flying Squirrels
There are 6 species of sugar gliders in the world. In comparison to this, there are 50 species of flying squirrels in the world. The difference between flying squirrels and sugar gliders is quite dramatic in this case. Given how widespread flying squirrels are in nature, their diversity does not come as a surprise.
Sugar gliders and flying squirrels are also considered to be the product of convergent evolution (source). This means that the ancestors of marsupial mammals and the ancestors of placental mammals were likely to belong to the same family. However, the marsupial ancestors split from their placental ancestors during the mid-Jurassic period. These animals have evolved separately since then.
Marsupial mammals like sugar gliders have also lived in geographical isolation from placental mammals for more than 100 million years. Marsupial mammals evolved and spread across the continent of Australia. In the case of placental mammals, their diversity led them to occupy most of the world.
In spite of these geographical dissimilarities, flying squirrels and sugar gliders are said to evolve in a convergent manner. This means that they live in similar ecosystems and lead similar lifestyles. They also have very similar physical traits. For instance, they are both nocturnal in nature. They are also arboreal and will dwell in trees. Besides this, they also have large eyes that are able to collect light, enabling them to see in the dark.
Both animals are omnivores that will consume both plant and animal matter.
Life span Of Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels
Sugar gliders tend to have a longer lifespan than flying squirrels. Northern flying squirrels, for instance, can live for nearly 4 years in the wild. The Southern flying squirrel also has an average lifespan of 3 to 5 years in the wild. They can live for nearly 10 years in captivity. In contrast to this, sugar gliders can live for as long as 14 years in the wild. They have a lifespan of 14 years in captivity as well.
Flying Squirrels and Sugar Gliders Are Very Different
There are several major differences between flying squirrels and sugar gliders. Perhaps the most significant difference between these two animals is how they reproduce and give birth to their young. Their location and evolutionary diversity can also help you distinguish between these two mammals.