WATERFORD – Sugar gliders have taken over Hope Dudley’s heart and her home. Three rooms of the home in Waterford she shares with her mother, Ada, are devoted to sugar gliders, one room to a family.

The house is kept at 70 or 75 degrees day and night for these heat-loving pets.

These small animals have membranes connecting front and hind legs, similar to those of a flying squirrel, which allow them to glide. However, they are not related species. Dudley is emphatic that these animals are marsupials, native to warm places like Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia and related to kangaroos. They have no genetic relationship to any rodents, she said, though they are often compared to squirrels because of similarity in size.

Sugar gliders are one of the few exotics allowed in Maine, she said. Dudley got her first one two years ago after seeing it advertised in Uncle Henry’s. They are very emotionally complex animals, she said, and bond strongly with their humans as well as their own animal families. People should know that it isn’t in the animals’ best interests to shift them casually from home to home.

Her mother is their caretaker until Dudley gets home from work at 10 p.m. That’s when they get to come out and play for a couple hours. Nocturnal animals, they sleep all day and don’t like being disturbed by light and people. After 10, though, they get to come out of their cages and play on the climbing and swinging toys Ada has made for them. They make a variety of sounds, signaling different emotions.

Her mother creates their sleeping tents made of fleece with pieces of fleece inside for bedding. Family groups sleep together, with the male acting as protector. He marks his territory and his family from scent glands on his forehead and chest, Dudley said, and if frightened, he can release a very nasty, skunky smell.

Dudley is the builder of cages, she explained, and she learned the hard way that they need one-half by one-inch grid wire coated in plastic. Babies can escape through smaller openings and when their urine contacts uncoated wire, it leads to urinary tract infections.

And there are no vets in the area yet who work with sugar gliders.

She speaks of her sugar gliders by name and knows their ages, their individual habits, likes and dislikes. She keeps diaries of each, much like a human mother keeps a “baby book.” A good part of each day is spent in their care, preparing their food, cleaning and filling water bottles and dishes, cleaning cages, playing with them. They are not suitable pets for children, she emphasized

Their diets consist of fruit, vegetables and freeze-dried crickets. Cat food is not suitable for them and can cause serious constipation and liver problems, she said. Dudley uses a special mix with canned baby fruits, vegetables and chicken, honey, apple juice, scrambled egg, yogurt, and baby cereal all mixed up in the blender. With good care, they can live 12 to 15 years, she said.

After spending only 16 days in the uterus, these tiny marsupials are born and crawl immediately into the mother’s pouch where the mammary glands are located. They spend eight to 10 weeks in the pouch and will continue to nurse for another eight weeks while the mother weans them. The mothers are secretive about the time the babies leave the pouch, but if one listens, Dudley said, they can hear the mothers “sing” a very low, squeaky sound the first couple days they’re out.

Much of Dudley’s information about the animals comes from the Internet, she said, with Glider Central her main resource.

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