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Greater GliderGREATER GLIDER

(Petauroides volans)

Largest of the gliding possums, the Greater Glider is adapted to an almost exclusive diet of eucalypt leaves. Like the Koala, it has a greatly enlarged caecum in which much of the cellulose of the leaves is broken down to assimil'able substances by bacterial fermentation.

In common with most arboreal leaf-eaters, it does not normally need to drink. The Greater Glider lives in a variety of eucalypt-dominated habitats, ranging from
low open forests on the coast to tall forests in the ranges and low woodland westwards of the Dividing Range: it does not penetrate into rainforests. In any particular area it feeds on only one or two species of eucalypt but, over its entire range, the number of species eaten is considerably greater. Strictly nocturnal and essentially solitary, it rests during the day in a tree hollow, usually high in an old tree. After emerging, it moves by a series of glides, often along established routes to a feeding area. Bouts of feeding in the terminal clusters of leaves are interspersed with periods of rest while the animal sits in a fork or on a large horizontal branch.

It is an agile climber, and like cuscuses, ringtails and the Koala, can effect a pincer-like grip on a branch by opposing the first two toes of the forefoot to the other three. Since the leading edge of the patagium extends only to the elbow (not to the wrist, as in other marsupial gliders) it does not extend the whole forelimb when gliding, but flexes it at the elbow, bringing the paws under the chin.

A glide may cover a horizontal distance of up to 100 m and involve changes of direction of as much as 90°. Just before reaching a target tree, the flight is directed upwards so that the animal loses speed and lands with all four feet against the trunk: habitually used trees may be recognised by the scratches made when landing. The Greater Glider moves clumsily in a loping gait when on the ground, where it is known to fall prey to the Dingo and Fox. The Powerful Owl is a known predator on adults. Unlike species of Petaurus, and particularly the Yellow-bellied Glider which often occurs with it, the Greater Glider is silent.

The spacing of individuals and the inability of translocated animals to establish themselves among a resident population suggest that it is a territorial species. It seems likely that territories are defined by the scent marks deposited from the large anal glands which are particularly well developed in adult males.

The breeding season is from March to June. Females have 2 teats but only 1 young is born. This emerges from the pouch when 3-4 months old and, for the next three months, may be carried on the mother's back or left in the nest while she is feeding. Juveniles become independent at the age of about 9 months but sexual maturity and breeding do not occur until the second year of life.

The abundance of the Greater Glider in undisturbed forests is in strong contrast to its absence from pine plantations and its paucity in regenerated forest which lacks old trees with hollows suitable for nesting.

Its conservation is utterly dependent upon sympathetic forest management which retains buffer strips of old forest between coupes and preserves old 'habitat' trees and their potential successors in small unlogged areas.

SIZE:
HEAD AND BODY LENGTH: 350-450 mm
TAIL LENGTH: 450-600 mm
WEIGHT: 900-1700 g

IDENTIFICATION: Dark grey, cream, mottled cream and grey or dusky brown above; whitish below. Long furry tail, pale below on basal half. Short snout, very large ears. Tail not prehensile.

RECENT SYNONYMS: Until recently incorrectly known as Schoinobates volans.

OTHER COMMON NAMES: Greater Flying Phalanger, Dusky Glider, Greater Glider-possum, Squirrel

STATUS: Abundant.

SUBSPECIES: Petauroides volans volans, Victoria to about Tropic of Capricorn. Petauroides volans minor, north of about Tropic of Capricorn. It is possible that these forms represent distinct species.

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