Taronga's Feather-tail Gliders Show Their True Colours
Wednesday 3rd August 2011
Taronga's Feather-tail Gliders Show Their True Colours

Even though Feather-tail Gliders reside all over Australia’s eastern seaboard, chances are you’ve probably never seen one. Or perhaps you have seen one, but unwittingly mistook it for a mouse (for which you’d be forgiven – at first glance, these tiny gliding mammals do look a good deal like baby mice, save for their delicate feathered tails and subtle gliding membranes).

But if you’d like to spy some of these remarkable Aussie natives in their nocturnal habitat without the hassle of traipsing through the bush in the dead of night, look no further than Taronga Zoo’s Nightlife Exhibit which, following a highly successful breeding season at the Zoo, is currently home to no less than 67 Feather-tails. Not only is Taronga the first Zoo in the world to breed Feather-tail Gliders, it’s also the only one to successfully breed them consistently.

All of this breeding breeds the question: how are Taronga’s talented team of Keepers and vets able to tell this huge crop of minuscule mammals apart?

Weighing roughly the same as two-to-three teaspoons of water (and that’s when fully grown!), the Feather-tails are far too small to be microchipped, which is the normal method of identification used for most other species at the Zoo. Luckily, the Taronga team were able to put their heads together and come up with a rather colourful solution to this conundrum.

Over the past couple of days, Taronga vets like Frances and Wildlife Nurse, Liz have been hard at work colour-coding the underside of the Gliders’ tails. As part of each individual procedure, the colour product is carefully placed under the skin of the animal’s tail, using a very small syringe. This process takes just a couple of seconds and causes no harm whatsoever to the Feather-tails.

This colour-coding technique has been successfully used with many other species, especially fish. And because the colour doesn’t rub off, it ensures that Taronga’s keepers and vets will always be able to tell which individual Feather-tail is which.

You can catch the newly rainbow-tailed Gliders inside Taronga Zoo’s Nightlife Exhibit, which brings visitors face to face with lots of nocturnal Aussie wildlife including Northern Quolls, Bilbies and the energetic native Plains Rats. But in the meantime, here are a few more fun facts about our fine Feather-tailed friends:

• Australian Feather-tail Gliders are the world’s smallest gliding mammals.
• Thanks to their special gliding membrane, Feather-tails can glide for up to 20 meters.
• Their feathered tail (which is – Surprise! – where their name comes from) also acts as a rudder when they fly, thus helping the Gliders to steer.
• Although one of the lesser known Australian animals, the Feather-tail Glider used to feature on our country’s one-cent coin before it was taken out of circulation,

 ...this isn’t such a shame, because we here at Taronga Zoo reckon they’re worth a whole lot more than one cent! The Feather-tails are an invaluable piece of the Australian ecosystem. Plus they’re super cute to boot.

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