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Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider: The 5 Differences Explained

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Flying squirrels and sugar gliders look similar and are both able to glide for hundred feet, thanks to their paraglider-like membranes. The main difference is that one is a squirrel and the other is a marsupial. They are also native to different geographic regions and have physical differences that distinguish them.

Flying squirrels and sugar gliders are both nocturnal tree-dwelling rodents that look strikingly similar. 

They both have round heads, large, black eyes, and gliding membranes attached from the front feet to the back feet. 

But, they also have significant differences, that you can use to tell them apart.

In this article, we identify some big differences between these small and similar-looking creatures. 

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Overview 

The main difference between a flying squirrel and a sugar glider is that, although they are both rodents, one is a squirrel and the other is a marsupial. They also live in different habitats, as flying squirrels prefer deciduous forests, while sugar gliders live in eucalyptus trees.

Flying squirrels and sugar gliders are both nocturnal rodents that live in trees and glide for long distances thanks to their gliding membranes.

However, there are five main differences between flying squirrels and sugar gliders:

  1. Physical appearance 
  2. Distribution/Geographic region 
  3. Mammalian class and reproduction 
  4. Gliding membrane 
  5. Lifespan
SpeciesSouthern flying squirrel Northern flying squirrel Sugar Glider 
Scientific NameGlaucomys volansGlaucomys sabrinusPetaurus breviceps
Description Large, round black eyes. Gray-brown fur with white undersides. 
Large, round black eyes. Gray-brown fur with pale gray undersides. Blue-grey fur with dark stripes. A central dark stripe runs from the top of their heads down the middle of their backs and to their tails. Then there is a dark stripe on either side of the face running from the eye to the ear.
Size8.35-10.12 inches10-12 inches 4.7-12.5 inches
Weight 1.34-3.17 oz2.64-4.93 oz3.88 oz
HabitatDeciduous and mixed forests.Deciduous forests, mixed coniferous and deciduous forests.Any type of forest that has eucalyptus trees. 
DistributionEastern half of United States Alaska, Canada, northern California, Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin, northern North Carolina, Tennessee, southern Appalachian Mountains, the Black Hills, and the Sierra Nevada.New Guinea, Bismark Archipelago, and northern and eastern Australia.
Diet Omnivore Omnivore Omnivore 
Lifespan3-5 years4 years14 years

Flying Squirrel Overview 

There are 50 species of flying squirrels (Pteromyini) that live across most of North America, Central America, Northern Asia, Siberia, and Scandinavia. 

Flying squirrels, like the Southern and Northern flying squirrels, don’t fly as birds or bats do. 

Instead, they glide. 

Northern Flying Squirrels
Image Source

This is thanks to a membrane, also known as patagium, that stretches out from their wrists to their ankles when they leap and helps them glide through the air.[1]  

What Do Flying Squirrels Look Like?

Southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) have bulgy black eyes that are round and large in comparison to their head size. Their fur is gray-brown with white undersides. 

These nocturnal gliding tree-dwellers are between 8.35 to 10.12 inches (21 to 26 centimeters) long and weigh an average of 2.30 ounces (65.4 grams).[2]

Northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) are also nocturnal and have similar features to southern flying squirrels. Two differences are that they have a gray underside instead of white and are slightly larger, measuring 10 to 12 inches long.[3] 

Sugar Glider Overview 

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are native to Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. 

Sugar gliders are palm-sized marsupial mammals that have physical and behavioral similarities to flying squirrels. 

Sugar gliders are reportedly becoming popular exotic pets in North America.

It’s not advisable to keep a wild animal as a pet, especially without checking the state laws. It is possible that states that don’t allow ownership of pet squirrels will not allow sugar gliders as pets either.

Sugar Glider Overview 

What Do Sugar Gliders Look Like?

Sugar gliders have blue-grey fur with a dark central dark stripe running from the top of their heads down the middle of their backs and to their tails. 

They also have a dark stripe on either side of the face running from the eye to the ear.[4]

They are 4.7-12.5 inches in size and weigh an average of 3.88 ounces. 

Like flying squirrels, the sugar glider has a membrane of skin that extends from its fifth forefinger to its back ankles.[5]

When they stretch out their legs and jump, the membrane is extended and acts as an airfoil that allows them to glide through the air.

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Differences 

One of the biggest differences between these two species is that flying squirrels are placental mammals and part of the squirrel family while sugar gliders are marsupial mammals, like kangaroos.

There are five differences between sugar gliders and flying squirrels:

  1. Physical appearance 
  2. Distribution/Geographic region 
  3. Mammalian class and reproduction 
  4. Gliding membrane structure 
  5. Lifespan
Differences Flying SquirrelSugar Glider
Mammalian Class Placental mammal.Marsupial mammal. 
Fur Gray-brown fur.Blue-grey fur with dark stripes. 
ReproductionFlying squirrels do not have pouches for their infants.  Female sugar gliders have pouches in which the infants live after birth until fully developed. 
Habitat Deciduous and coniferous forests and woodlands.Forests with plenty of eucalyptus trees.
DistributionEastern half of the United States, northern Eurasia,   India, and Asia. New Guinea, Bismark Archipelago, northern and eastern Australia. 
Hibernation Do not hibernate.Can hibernate briefly when it’s cold or when food is scarce.
Lifespan3 – 5 years14 years

1. Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Physical Appearance

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Physical Appearance

Although they have many similar physical features, sugar gliders have a dark stripe on their back. Southern and northern flying squirrels do not have stripes. 

Sugar gliders have blue-grey fur with dark stripes. A central dark stripe runs from the top of their heads down the middle of their backs and to their tails. Then there is a dark stripe on either side of the face running from the eye to the ear.[4]

Female sugar gliders have a pouch for their young. Flying squirrels do not have pouches. 

2. Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Distribution 

Flying squirrels and sugar gliders live in different places.

Sugar gliders are native to New Guinea, Bismark Archipelago, and northern and eastern Australia.

Flying squirrels are found in the eastern half of the United States, northern Eurasia, India, and Asia. [6] 

3. Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Class & Reproduction 

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Class & Reproduction 
Image Source

Although they are both considered rodents, flying squirrels are part of the squirrel family and are placental mammals while sugar gliders are marsupial mammals. 

Placental mammals are born fully developed. They develop inside the mother’s body and are nourished by a placenta.

Marsupial mammals spend a short time developing inside the mother’s womb and are underdeveloped when born. After birth, a baby marsupial crawls into its mother’s pouch where it continues to develop, nourished by the mother’s milk.[7] 

Northern flying squirrels have a gestation period of 37 to 42 days and southern flying squirrels have a gestation period of 40 days. 

In contrast, sugar gliders’ gestation period is only about 16 days long. They give birth to one or two baby gliders, also known as joeys, that weigh a mere 0.19 grams. The underdeveloped joeys stay in the mother’s pouch for 70 days. 

4. Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Gliding Membrane Structure 

Flying squirrels have styliform cartilage that supports the gliding membrane (patagium). [8] 

Sugar gliders do not have styliform cartilage. They have a well-developed muscle, known as tibiocarpalis muscle,  in the most lateral area of the gliding membrane.[9] 

5. Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Lifespan 

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Lifespan

Sugar gliders live longer than flying squirrels. 

Flying squirrels live for between 3 – 5 years in the wild and 10 -13 years in captivity. Sugar gliders live for an average of 14 years in the wild and in captivity. 

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Similarities 

Flying squirrels and sugar gliders are omnivorous nocturnal tree-dwellers with big eyes and incredible gliding abilities thanks to their wing-like membranes. 

Here are the most notable similarities between flying squirrels and sugar gliders:

  • Behavior and diet 
  • Anatomy and physical appearance 

Behaviour and Diet 

Flying squirrels and sugar gliders are nocturnal omnivores that forage for food at night. They glide from tree to tree in search of prey. 

Flying Squirrel vs. Sugar Glider Behaviour and Diet 

Anatomy and Physical Appearance  

Both flying squirrels and sugar gliders have gliding membranes. When they stretch their legs and leap, the membranes extend to create an airfoil that helps them glide. 

Both creatures have large, round eyes, which help them spot prey at night. 

Related: Tree Squirrels vs. Ground Squirrels: How To Tell The Difference

FAQs

Are Sugar Gliders Squirrels?

No, sugar gliders are not squirrels but marsupials. A flying squirrel is a placental mammal. Although they are both rodents and look and behave similarly, sugar gliders are closer relatives to kangaroos than flying squirrels. 

Sugar Glider vs. Flying Squirrel as Pets

Pet sugar gliders and pet flying squirrels are not recommended. They are wild animals and are nocturnal by nature. Their wild, nocturnal nature makes them problematic as indoor family pets. Owning squirrels is illegal or requires a permit in many countries and North American states. 

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.

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