GliderVet Newsletter  |  Sugar Glider Vet Newsletters 2014

Glidervet #142: Torpor, Hibernation, Trances, Playing Possum

This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the April 2014 edition of the GliderVet News.
I would like to first start off by thanking everyone who found it in their heart to donate to the Sugar Glider Diet Study that is in progress. Our readership here and our Facebook friends did a great job helping to bring this study further along, and for that I am deeply grateful! If you missed out on last month’s newsletter or you had the intention of donating, but got busy, you can re-visit the article by going here! Glidervet Newsletter March 2014


And the direct link to donate is here:
Heat Alert Announcement: As I’m sitting here writing this, I pause, because it occurs to me that today would be a good day to start working the air conditioner again. It is getting mighty warm here in S. Texas, and I want to remind you to order your yogurt drops very soon. They do melt in shipment when it’s hot out and we are getting there now!

Here is a link to our special three pack pricing, a good stash for the summer months: 3 Pack Mini Yogurt Drops

 

While on the subject of treats, we’ve recently launched a couple of new sections on our new website. One is dedicated to natural and organic treats, so if you run out of yogies over the summer, you might try some of the other treats. This section is a work in progress, as we do intend to add quite a few more items in addition to what you can see now. What’s that you say? You’re not sure if your sugar gliders will like some of these items? Don’t sweat it (even if it is getting warmer outside). Now with every order, you have the option of picking a free gift, which includes sample sizes for all of our natural and healthy treats. Natural and Organic Treats

 

This month our Chief Executive Glider is back with his usual ridiculosity, yet as silly as he is at times, he is still the boss around here and we ultimately have to at least compromise to his demands. He wants to tell you personally about HIS new section on our new website.
Arnold started off by telling me his idea by declaring that he wants to change his name. Now that we live in South Texas, he wanted something more appropriate and decided on:
Arnoldo Inigo Montoya El Toro Zorro


However, I was able to talk him out of that when I explained that not only would we have to get his glider’s license changed, but this name may not even fit on his license, not to mention changing names on all of our corporate papers, bank accounts, and mealworm suppliers!
While he agreed to give up on that idea, he then proceeded to instruct me to start up a new department on HIS website that would give people good access to stuff that they can make their own glider toys and stuff that I can find that is really cool for gliders AND really affordable. Well it just happens that I’ve met someone recently who told me where I can buy closeouts on items that would be really cool for sugar gliders and toy makers.
So please check out Arnoldo Inigo Montoya El Toro Zorros’s new department called El Cheapo Boutique-O. Some of this stuff we’ll be able to replenish, but many of the items in this Boutique-O will be adios amigo once it’s sold out. Cuz closeouts means we can’t get it no more!
And in the meantime, I have to continue to listen to Arnold’s ridiculosity as he tells all the other sugar gliders what happened when Arnoldo Inigo Montoya El Toro Zorro met Darth Vader one time and proclaimed…. You are NOT my father!
Now for our featured article ….
DO SUGAR GLIDERS GO INTO TORPOR OR HIBERNATION?

 

I think most of us are all pretty well versed in the subject of hibernation, whereby some animals will sleep deeply to conserve energy during the harsh rigors of winter and because of scarcity in food supplies. The way this past winter went, I would not have minded sleeping through chunks of it.
Torpor is part of the hibernating process. I’ve found various definitions on torpor and I chose to share this excerpt from Wikipedia as it specifically addresses marsupials.
Torpor is a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. Torpor enables animals to survive periods of reduced food availability. A torpor bout can refer to the period of time a hibernator spends at low body temperature, lasting days to weeks, or it can refer to a period of low body temperature and metabolism lasting less than 24 hours, as in "daily torpor".
Animals that undergo daily torpor include birds (even tiny hummingbirds) and some mammals, including many marsupial species … During the active part of their day, such animals maintain normal body temperature and activity levels, but their metabolic rate and body temperature drops during a portion of the day (usually night) to conserve energy. Torpor is often used to help animals survive during periods of colder temperatures, as it allows them to save the energy that would normally be used to maintain a high body temperature.”
I’ve run across various references in the sugar glider community where people talk about their gliders in torpor. The sugar gliders are indeed capable of going into a very deep sleep mode, but I wonder if it’s really torpor? There is generally no need for the body to metabolically crank down in captivity, as food shortages are not what most of our sugar gliders would ever experience. I smile as I write this, because I think it is quite the contrary. Most people seem to have a tendency to overfeed their sugar gliders, so maybe that deep sleep is a result of the body needing to relax to digest, as many of us do on Thanksgiving Day.
Additionally, most of us keep sugar gliders in our homes which are climate controlled and not likely to get down to temperatures where the body mechanics would naturally slow down to preserve excess energy burn. The need to produce heat in the body does require a good amount of energy.
I also considered from the point of view that sugar gliders inhabit holes in trees typically when they are in the wild, with perhaps as many as 10-15 sugar gliders inhabiting one single space, all tightly snuggled together to conserve their heat and energy. I can well imagine that some level of torpor takes place in the wild, but are we really seeing torpor with our captive, spoiled, well fed, temperature controlled little sugar gliders? Maybe we are, Maybe we’re not. I don’t know that it really matters either way, but I thought this discussion would segue nicely into two other more common situations that many of us have observed with our sugar gliders.
The next behavior I want to discuss is something I don’t even know if there is a name for. Have you ever seen your glider go into a trancelike state? They may be seated on a branch and perfectly still just staring out, and seemingly quite unaware of what is going on around them. I’ve waved my hands in front of their eyes, and often they will stay that way. Once I touch them, or offer a treat, they seem to generally snap out of it, but even gently petting them does not always break the trance.
I find it rather amusing really. I’ve seen lots of comedic bits and pieces about people trying to distract the Queen’s Guard in front of Buckingham Palace. Growing up in New Orleans, I’ve also personally seen lots of people trying to break the intense stillness of the street mimes in the French Quarter. Our sugar gliders seem to have this talent naturally, and I’m not convinced that this is torpor event (as I’ve seen it referred to at times). Around here, I just chalk it up to glider meditation simply because I need something to call this unusual sugar glider behavior.
Sugar gliders are distantly related to the North American opossum. I’ve always lived in places that were abundant with these critters and I’ve seen them play possum firsthand. Most recently I helped a family member rescue a very young possum from an outside critter feeder he had. The baby had gotten inside of the feeder. After several failed attempts to coax the baby to climb out on a limb, Cliff finally just put his hand in the feeder and picked up that little baby possum. It hiss and spit and was not thrilled by the situation at all. Cliff then walked it several feet away and put it on the ground near some brush. That baby just laid in the grass perfectly still, playing possum and pretending like it was dead. We thought if we all walked away, it would get up and scamper. I kept going out every five or ten minutes checking to see if it had moved and I made several trips outside before the little opposum resurrected and disappeared.
I looked up this on dictionary.com

Play possum – to feign death or sleep

Is it torpor or is it playing possum?
I hope you find some of these descriptions amusing, but the next behavior I wish to discuss is not quite so amusing and might just save a sugar glider’s life.
There are times that a sugar glider may appear dead, and even cold to the touch. I was told a story once by a close associate who had a young joey sugar glider escape its habitat and she found it on the cold floor in the morning. When she picked it up, it almost seemed as if it was already getting stiff. She wrapped it in a paper towel while she tried to figure out which cage it came from and how it got out. Obviously she was sad and distressed about the loss, and she couldn’t figure anything out. About twenty or so minutes passed by and she gave up trying to solve the mystery and picked up the baby swaddled in Bounty. She felt a slight movement, and she examined the joey very closely to find it still listless, cold and unresponsive. She then decided to carry the baby around with her for a bit, just in case. And then it happened. They baby crabbed and the lady was so shocked, she almost had a potty accident in her pants … LOL! Her body warmth had revived the little sugar glider. . It was an unexpected and delightful miracle as she described it. As the joey warmed up even more, it became stronger and stronger, and so did its crab! It wasn’t dead at all.
I’ve heard quite a few stories of gliders seemingly coming back to life once they’ve been warmed up. If you have an unfortunate experience, and the body is not totally stiff, please try to warm the sugar glider, as you may experience a miracle of nature yourself. One of our Facebook members has also mentioned that gliders that have inadvertently jumped into a toilet or sink with standing water may sometimes be revived by warmth.
Is it torpor? It does seem in these cases that the metabolic rate does slow down tremendously in order to keep the animal alive for at least some period of time, and their basal temperature is clearly lower. I don’t know the answer to that but it is a really wonderful and simultaneously spooky event to encounter.
‘Til next time, in good health for you and your gliders, we sign off in appreciation of all of you who share great glider adventures with us!

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