It’s night time on a Land for Wildlife property near Mapleton and the eucalypt forest is quiet and still. Occasionally a Boobook Owl and Marbled Frogmouth call in the distance. What I am trying to see is silent and high in the canopy, not an easy task when the trees are up to 50m tall! A glint of eye shine in the spotlight gives its location away; what I am looking at is a Greater Glider (Petauroides volans), one of the largest gliding mammals on Earth.

High up in the canopy Greater Gliders can look similar to brushtail possums, but the fur around their ears is long and fluffy. They also have a longer fluffy tail that is non-prehensile (cannot grip). Greater Gliders can vary in colour from dark grey, brown, grey and cream above, while their bellies are usually white or cream. Their gliding membrane stretches from elbow to ankle and they can glide up to 100m. The glider I am observing decides to move on and I hear a soft thwack as it lands in a nearby tree.

An image of a Greater Glider
Australia’s largest glider, the Greater Glider, lives in deep, wide hollows in old trees, emerging at night to feed on eucalypt leaves. Image by Steve Parish, Nature Connect.

Unlike other gliders that are omnivores eating nectar, insects and sap, the Greater Glider is a herbivore that eats eucalypt leaves and sometimes eucalypt flowers. A Greater Glider will sit quietly in the canopy feeding with the occasional rustling or gum nut falling to the ground – the only noise to give away its location. Like the Koala, the caecum (a pouch between the small and large intestines) is enlarged in the Greater Glider, to help break down the cellulose of eucalypt leaves.

The Greater Glider is found along the coast from central Victoria to northern Queensland. It has recently been added as a vulnerable species to the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as it has suffered a substantial reduction in its population. Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, too intense and too frequent fires and climate change. Greater Gliders need large tracts of undisturbed forests and, in particular, large hollows in old trees to den in during the day.

Reference: Threatened Species Scientific Committee (2016)
Approved Conservation Advice for Petauroides volans (greater glider).
Department of the Environment.

Article by Stephanie Reif
Land for Wildlife Officer
Sunshine Coast Council

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