The Feathertail Glider, the smallest of all gliders, has a variety of names, including the Pygmy Gliding Possum, the Flying Phalanger, and the Flying Mouse. Ranging in size from 6.5cm-8cm, these tiny mammals can easily fit in your hand.
Their large eyes help them see and navigate and night, when they are most active. They forage among the treetops, and build nests to sleep in during the day made out of anything from abandoned bird’s nests to banana bags and line the nest with leaves, feathers and shredded bark.
Their tongue is brush tipped which helps them lap up nectar form flowers and fruit, although, as an omnivore, they eat both nectar and pollen, and insects. Their feet have many sweat glands that create moisture on the foot pads and allow them to climb just about anything. The glider gets the surface tension like mini suction cups for it to climb even vertical panes of glass.
The Feathertail Gliders get their name from their remarkable tail – they are the only known mammal to have a feather like tail. Shaped just like the feather on a bird, its 70 – 80 mm tail is flat with stiff fringed hair growing horizontally either side all the way to the top.
Like all gliders, they have a skin fold known as the gliding membrane that extends from the elbow to the knee and is fringed with long hair along the edge. This increases the body surface, and when stretched out, the average gliding distance is about 14 m (though they have been known to glide up to 28 m.) To become airborne, they fling themselves from the tree with legs outstretched, with the membrane acting as a parachute. Their flattened tails then help the possum to glide, steer, brake, and anchor itself on landing. Gliding helps this small mammal to stay amongst the treetops where they can avoid larger, ground-dwelling predators, such as foxes, cats, and reptiles.
- Video: Fascinating Feathertail Gliders (from the Oprah channel; Warning: ads!)