Petaurus australis occurs in native eucalypt forests along the eastern and southeastern coasts of Australia in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. It ranges inland as much as several hundred kilometers and has an extensive, but patchy distribution. It is generally found in low densities and considered rare throughout most of its range, although it can be locally common (e.g. as in east Gippsland). (Environment Australia Biodiversity Group, 1999)
Petaurus australis lives in coastal and open foothill forest and woodland, and in wet eucalypt forests. In eastern Australia it lives only in tall, mature eucalypt forests in regions of high rainfall, with temperate to subtropical climates. The northern Queensland population lives in forests at high altitudes with lower temperatures. It occurs in greatest numbers in coastal and foothill forest and woodland, and in lesser numbers in wet eucalypt forests. Winter flowering eucalypts (e.g. Eucalyptus maculata) may be important in habitat preference in southern Queensland. High densities seen in New South Wales may correlate to a continuous supply of nectar due to a greater diversity of eucalypts. (Environment Australia Biodiversity Group; WIRES NSW)
Body length in Petaurus australis ranges from 27 to 30 cm, and tail length ranges from 42 to 48 cm. Its pouch has two incompletely divided compartments divided by a well developed septum, a feature unique among marsupials. The fur is fine and silky. Its tail is prehensile and fully covered in fur. Its coloration is dusky gray-brown dorsally and creamy to yellowish-orange ventrally, with black feet and an oblique dark strip on its thigh. It has semi-naked ears and a pink nose. A gliding membrane is connected from its wrists and ankles. Males are larger than females. (WIRES NSW; Nowak, 1991)
Mating has been observed while pairs were clinging to the underside of a branch. Females have two nipples in the incompletely divided pouch. Typically, females bear a single young, although twins have been observed. Breeding is limited to August through December in Victoria but occurs throughout the year in Queensland. Young are carried in the mother's pouch for about 100 days, after which time they are left in a nest for an additional 60 days. Both parents provide care for the young, which become independent after 18 to 24 months, and become sexually mature at about 2 years of age. (WIRES NSW; Nowak, 1991; Craig, 1985, Goldingay, 1992).
Petaurus australis is an extremely active, arboreal, nocturnal glider. Researchers have recorded glide distances up to 114 meters. P. australis is the most vocal of the gliders, and often lets out a loud call as it glides. It typically carries its tail in a vertically erect manner, similar to felids. P. australis is territorial and aggressive to intruders of the same species. It is social to some extent, living in small family groups of 1 adult male and 1 or two females with their offspring. It typically constructs a leaf-lined nest in a hollow tree in which it sleeps during the day. (WIRES NSW; Nowak, 1991; Goldingay, 1992).
The diet of Petaurus australis consists largely of nectar, pollen, and the sap of eucalypts. Sap is obtained by incising the bark on the upper branches and trunks of Eucalyptus resinifera trees and drinking the ooze. Some individual trees are clearly favored and become very heavily scarred. Its diet also includes insects, arachnids, grubs, and possibly small vertebrates. (WIRES NSW; Craig, 1985)
Since Petaurus australis is strongly tied to certain species of eucalypt trees, removal or damage to these trees results in habitat reduction. Eucalypt forests in Australia are cut for timber or cleared for agricultural purposes. It is also apparent that removal of old growth elements from unlogged forests or from previously lightly-logged forests results in a decline in density of these animals. Because the species requires a variety of trees to feed on in mixed forest over large home ranges, and because it needs hollow trees for nesting, its conservation requires the preservation of large tracts of forests.
Besides reduction of habitat from logging, there is evidence that expansion of rainforest into the wet sclerophyll forests preferred by Petaurus australis also has diminished its range. Rainforest expansion is believed to be due to a reduction in the intensity of fires along the western margins of rainforests, possibly caused by controlled burning of undergrowth by cattle ranchers. (Environment Australia Biodiversity Group; WIRES NSW; Harrington and Sanderson 1994; Lindenmayer et al., 1999)
Ross Secord (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
"Environment Australia Biodiversity Group homepage" (On-line). Accessed November 9, 1999 at http://www.biodiversity.environment.gov.au/plants/threaten/plans/action_plans/marsupials/28.htm.
"WIRES NSW (Wildlife Information and Rescue Service)" (On-line). Accessed October 12, 1999 at http://www.streetnet.com.au/wires/3118.htm.
"WIRES NSW (Wildlife Information and Rescue Service)" (On-line). Accessed October 12, 1999 at http://www.wires.webcentral.com.au/3240.htm.
Craig, S. 1985. Social organization reproduction and feeding behavior of a population of yellow-bellied gliders Petaurus-australis Marsupialia Petauridae. Australian Wildlife Research, 12: 1-18.
Goldingay, R. 1992. Socioecology of the yellow-bellied glider Petaurus-australis in a coastal forest. Australian Journal of Zoology, 40: 267-278.
Harrington, G., K. Sanderson. 1994. Recent contraction of wet sclerophyll forest in the wet tropics of Queensland due to invasion by rainforest. Pacific Conservation Biology: 319-327.
Lindenmayer, D., R. Cunningham, M. Pope, C. Donnelly. 1999. The response of arboreal marsupials to landscape context: A large-scale fragmentation study. Ecological Applications, 9: 594-611.
Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Quin, D., R. Goldingay, S. Churchill, D. Engel. 1996. Feeding behaviour and food availability of the yellow-bellied glider in north Queensland. Wildlife Research, 23: 637-646.
Russell, R. 1995. The Mammals of Australia. Chatswood, NSW: Reed Books.