The feathertail glider is the smallest gliding marsupial in the world, also having a unique feather-like tail. The scientific name for this species means pygmy acrobat.
Feathertail gliders spend up to 87% of their time in trees at heights greater than 15 metres making them the most cryptic and rarely seen of all the glider species. However, despite its size, the feathertail glider is capable of gliding up to 25m.
The feathertail glider has the ability to run up vertical planes of glass and it is assumed that this skill is what allows them to run around that trunk and branches of smooth-barked gum trees.
A second species, the broad-toed feathertail glider (Acrobates frontalis) has been recognised (Harris, 2015) based on unpublished genetic studies and cryptic morphological differences in toe and tail characteristics.
Feathertail gliders have a mouse-sized body with grey-brown fur on the back and a white underside. The distinctive tail is quill-like and hairless except for a fringe of long stiff hairs down either side that resemble a feather.
- Head-body length, 65-80 mm
- Tail length, 70-80 mm
- Weight, 10-15 grams.
The gliding membrane extends from elbow to knee and is thicker than other glider species.
Feathertail gliders are usually silent, but when distressed they will hiss. Other vocalisations include ‘ticking’, ‘popping’ and a ‘psss-psss-psss’ sound. Droppings are similar to those of the house mouse in size and are pointed at both ends. Droppings are 5mm long and 2 mm wide and are composed of very fine particles.
- Feathertail gliders are found in most treed habitats, commonly occur in tall wet or dry forests
- They can live in the rainforest at all altitudes
- They are even known to occur in parks and backyards.
Feathertail gliders can live in large groups of up to 30 individuals and they are known to nest in artificial nest boxes, even meter boxes and telephone junction boxes. This behaviour assists in maintaining body temperature as their small size makes them susceptible to heat loss. Females have been documented to live up to 8 years.
Feathertail gliders commonly give birth between July and January, however, northern populations can breed at any time of the year. Litter size is between 2-4 young, and they will have up to 2 litters per year. Litters commonly have more than 1 father.
Females will look after the young of other females that share the nest. Not all females within the same nest breed at the same time. Growth is slow for such a small marsupial and the material investment is high. Their nest is commonly made up of eucalyptus and acacia leaves that form a 6-8 cm sphere shape.
Females reach sexual maturity at 8 months of age whereas the males reach sexual maturity at 12 months of age.
The feathertail gliders’ diet consists of insects, plant exudates, pollen, honeydew, nectar, and seeds. The gliders’ long, brushy tongues assist with feeding on pollen – their predominant source of protein – and nectar.
They may also feed on pollen that attaches to their fur after contact with flowers.
Feathertail gliders have a home range of 0.4-2.1 hectares and usually have a population density of 0.01-0.4 individuals per hectare.
Natural predators in their range include ghost bats, owls, kookaburras, and the small agile antechinus. Other predators include lizards and snakes.
Feathertail gliders occur down the east coast of Australia. They are found in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and some parts of South Australia.
- Feral predators such as cats, dogs, and foxes.
- Habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.
- Most of its range: Common, although rarely seen
- South Australia: Endangered due to logging practices
- Queensland: Least Concern
- National: not listed
- IUCN: Least Concern
- Installation of nest boxes
- Keeping cats locked up at night
- Braithwaite, L.W. (1983). Studies on the Arboreal Marsupial Fauna of Eucalypt Forests being Harvested for Woodplup at Eden, N.S.W. I. The species and distribution of animals. Australian Wildlife Research
- Goldingay, R.L., and Kavanagh, R.P. (1995). Foraging Behaviour and Habitat Use of the Feathertail Glider (Acrobates pygmaeus) at Waratah Creek. New South Wales, Wildlife Research 22: 457-470.
- Goldingay, R.L., Grimson, M.J., and Smith, G.C. (2007). Do feathertail gliders show a preference for nest box design? Wildlife Research 34: 484-490.
- Hackett, D.L., and Goldingay, R.L. (2001). Pollination of Banksia spp. By non-flying mammals in north-eastern New South Wales. Australian Journal of Botany 49: 637-644.
- Harper, M.J., McCarthy, M.A., and van der Ree, R. (2005). The use of nest boxes in urban natural vegetation remnants by vertebrate fauna. Wildlife Research 32: 509-516.
- Harris, J.M. (July 2015). “Acrobates pygmaeus (Diprotodontia: Acrobatidae)”. Mammalian Species. 47 (920): 32–44, https://doi.org/10.1093%2Fmspecies%2Fsev003
- Jackowiak, H, Godynicki, S. (2007). Light and scanning electron microscopic study on the structure of the lingual papillae of the feathertail glider (Acrobates pygmeus, Burramyidae, Marsupialia).
- Johnston, M, Shaw, M. (2000). Trial Radio-tracking of Feather-tailed Gliders Acrobates pygmaeus. Australian Mammalogy.
- Parrott, M.L., Ward, S.J. and Taggart, D.A. (2005). Multiple paternity and communal maternal care in the feathertail glider (Acrobates pygmaeus). Australian Journal of Zoology 53: 79-85.
- Smith, G.C., and Agnew, G. (2002). The value of ‘bat boxes’ for attracting hollow dependent fauna to farm forestry plantation in southeast Queensland. Ecological Management and Restoration 3: 37-47.
- Turner, V. (1984). Eucalyptus Pollen in the Diet of the Feathertail Glider, Acrobates pygmaeus (Marsupialia: Burramyidae). Australian Wildlife Research 11: 77-81.
- Ward S.J., (2000). The efficacy of nestboxes versus spotlighting for detecting feathertail gliders. Wildlife Research 27: 75-79.