Random Rant #18 – The Breeder’s Dilemma

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Glider Sex Ed

Sugar glider girls mature slower than boys. A girl should be about a year old and roughly 90 grams before getting pregnant for the best chance at healthy joeys and being a lifelong good momma. 8-9 months is about the youngest I am comfortable with personally. Young mothers have a slightly higher risk for cannibalizing joeys, as their bodies may not have the needed resources. Young mothers may also struggle to produce enough milk for their joeys, stunting their growth. The mother’s growth may also become stunted if she was not finished growing herself before her body had to shunt its resources into making joeys.

Captive glider girls can start ovulating as young as 3 months out of pouch (OOP) but this is very rare (about as rare as a 7 year old girl hitting puberty). I consider 4 months OOP to be the age that there is significant risk of a female beginning to ovulate and therefore my cutoff for how long daddy and daughter can share a cage. Around 8-9 months OOP, most female gliders should be nearly or at their adult weight, about 85-95 grams or so, and about the equivalent development of a 15-16 year old human. At a year OOP a girl is adult age, fully developed, and hopefully into the 90-100 gram weight range.

Boys can start getting kinky thoughts at around 4 months OOP, but in practice it seems 5-7 months is a more realistic expectation. When they get a thumbprint headspot, orange-tinted chest spot, and start sniffing at the girl’s cloaca more than is polite, they are probably thinking about making joeys.

An adult male glider will not wait for the female to be mature before mating her.

The Dilemma

The breeder’s dilemma is how do you get a breeding pair together without having to keep one glider alone in a cage for 6-8 months while she sexually matures. Keeping a glider alone for that long is likely to lead to anxiety, depression and behavior issues, which are things you really want to avoid in a breeding momma. If you pick out two 8 week old joeys to breed together, and put them together at 8 weeks, the male will become sexually mature sooner than the female, and she will likely get pregnant around 5 months OOP.

So how do breeders handle this 6 month age gap dilemma?

Let Nature Take Its Course

No. Sorry. But no. You are not replicating natural conditions for your gliders, and their physiology knows it.

This approach is very common with glider breeders, even well-established reputable ones, but it’s not something I recommend at all. Simply ignoring the breeder’s dilemma and justifying it with a misunderstanding of biology is not the best choice for starting a healthy breeding pair.

In the wild, gliders are usually born in late summer or early winter, they grow up during harsh climates and food scarcity. The lack of protein in their diets and need to spend energy maintaining internal temperatures during those months prevent them from having the bodily resources needed to ovulate. Therefore, wild young gliders usually do not ovulate until the next spring when bugs start spawning again, or they may hold a fertilized egg in stasis until their bodies have the nutrients needed to grow a joey. In captivity we do not protein starve or freeze out our gliders, and they begin to ovulate at much younger ages than they would in nature.

RISKS:

The girl will likely get pregnant too young, her and her joeys growth may be stunted, the joeys may need supplemental feeding, she may reject the joeys, and she will have a slightly higher risk of cannibalization. Sometimes cannibalization leads to a lifetime habit of that which ends your breeding plans. That is not the most likely scenario, but it is one of the worst ones, so worth mentioning.

Trios and Quads

One method is to make a breeding trio or quad instead of a breeding pair. This lets the two or three girls grow up together until they are 8 months old, at which point an 8 week old intact male joey is introduced to them. He will start thinking kinky thoughts right about when the girls hit 11-12 months OOP.

Females that are either pouch twins or introduced young work best for trios, but personality will always be the deciding factor. The better the females get along with each other, the more successful a breeding trio will be.

I have had one wildly successful trio, and one trio that started well and broke down after about a year due to personality conflicts between the moms

RISKS:

There are significant risks to breeding trios, including the moms cannibalizing each other’s joeys. Females can become competitive breeders sometimes, and interpersonal conflicts do occur more often with more colony members. Extreme care must be taken when setting up a breeding trio. If you are a new breeder, seek the advice of someone experienced in trios when considering this option.

Reverse Trio

A reverse trio is a female and neutered male that grow up together, who are then introduced to an intact male when the female is old enough. This works best when the neutered male is calm and gets along well with the intact male. I most often see this done with neutered brother and sister pairs, which may help with keeping the peace. Usually the neutered male will help raise the joeys by guarding them, keeping them warm, and grooming them.

RISKS:

The neutered male may fight the intact male for dominance. Additional colony members always increase in the odds of interpersonal conflicts arising, especially in a breeding cage.

Two for One

Another method is to make two breeding pairs instead of one. Let the girls grow up together in one cage, and the intact boys grow up together in a separate cage. When the girls are old enough, split the pairs and re-pair them for breeding.

This works best when the boys are twin brothers or longterm cagemates already. It’s especially helpful when the boys are younger than the girls and will get paired to them before the hormones fully kick in.

I have done this method successfully once, and have never had a bad experience with it. After retiring them from breeding we reintroduced them together as a pet quad.

RISKS:

Intact males don’t always get along, especially while within sniffing distance of ovulating females. If they start fighting each other you may have dominance wounds to deal with, which would require separating the males from each other into their own cages for healing.

Breaking apart bonded gliders can also be risky. Sometimes they are totally fine, even happier, but sometimes you are ripping apart a family. Both length of relationship and personality play important roles in whether this will be a painful experience for them. Some gliders react poorly to losing a cagemate, and you should be alert for symptoms of depression after repairing. “play-dates” is not an appropriate fix for this issue; allowing two separate breeding pairs to interact with each other is a recipe for violence.

Buy an Older Female

The larger breeders tend to have some older joeys available. Buyers usually want 8-12 week OOP joeys so once a joey has passed that window they become more difficult to find a home for. Larger breeders tend to have a couple older joeys that didn’t find their forever home within that window. They also sometimes hold joeys they intend to breed themselves later, and then change their plans. Touch base with a few dozen breeders to see if anyone is holding onto the perfect girl.

Rehomed adults can also be a good source for adult females. Be careful though, rehomed adults may not have lineage or breeding rights if their buyer didn’t intend to breed them. Sometimes you can track down their original breeder and purchase their lineage, but don’t count on that.

I have done this once with limited success. Shimmer and Shade had one amazing joey, proving out their perfect genetics, and then took vows of celibacy. Sigh.

RISKS:

Rehomed adults may not have lineage.

You do not know the gliders medical history, which could play an important role in deciding whether or not they are healthy enough for breeding.

If the breeder or previous owner who raised the girl was not especially great about caring for her, she may have trust issues about you handling her and her babies (you have to handle the joeys even if momma doesn’t like it).

You have less time to bond with the momma before having to handle her babies. I don’t know if that’s exactly a risk, but it’s a significant downside for sure.

The Pull Out Method

Much like the human pull out method, this one is prone to failure, though thankfully the glider version is less messy.

Gliders only have sex when the female ovulates, which is about once a month for 2-3 days. She won’t get pregnant outside of that window of time. So, if you can keep them apart for those few days each month, you can hopefully keep her from getting pregnant for a few months.

So, how do you know when she is ovulating?

Sometimes females will loudly yip-hiss all night long when they want some, my girl Skitter does this quite often, but her twin sister never does. Generally though, you’ll almost never know it from watching her. Watch the male instead, he has a lot of tells.

For 24 hours before the dirty deed, the male will:

  • Stalk the female everywhere she goes.
  • Sniff and lick her cloaca a whole lot, like 20 times in an hour, she may snit at this.
  • Rub his chest gland on the female’s cloaca multiple times in a day, this is the most reliable tell for me, as I don’t see this move occur very frequently outside of pre-mating day. They will do it sometimes outside of mating, but not repeatedly in a day.
  • Climb on her back, wrap his wrap around her tail, and bite down between her shoulder blade. This is the mating pose, you definitely want to break this up if you don’t want joeys.

Mating lasts a day. The male will cling to her back all night, occasionally pumping. She may go about her night like nothing’s happening, dragging him along as she gets dinner or runs the wheel. I sometimes find mine hanging off the cage ceiling during mating, but more often they are in a pouch. Mating is often loud, but not always. My girls always make a point of alerting the house to their escapades.

I have never personally relied on the pull out method, but I have advised others to use it when they were already in their situation or attempting the Let Nature Take Its Course method.

RISKS:

This isn’t the most effective method. You may not notice the behavior in time. You may falsely think you see pre-mating behavior, separate for a few days, and then put them back together just as ovulation begins while maintaining a false sense of security. This works best for people who are familiar with glider behaviors, hyper-observant, and spend 4-10 hours a night watching their gliders.

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