Yellow-bellied glider (northern subspecies)
Yellow-bellied glider Photo: Mark McCaffrey
Common name: Yellow-bellied glider (northern subspecies)
Other names: Fluffy glider
Scientific name: Petaurus australis unnamed subspecies
Family: Petauridae (striped possum and wrist-winged gliders)
Conservation status: This Wet Tropics population of the yellow-bellied glider is an unnamed subspecies and is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a critical priority for conservation under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection Back on Track species prioritisation framework.
Yellow-bellied glider Photo: Mark McCaffrey
The yellow-bellied glider is a medium sized gliding marsupial. Its head and body length is around 300 mm with the fluffy tail adding about an additional 450 mm. Males are slightly larger than the females with males weighing 470-725 g and females weighing 435-660 g. However, females tend to have longer tails then males. This Wet Tropics population is smaller and lighter in weight than the more widespread southeast populations.
The yellow-bellied glider has a greyish brown body colour with a distinct black stripe running down their back from forehead to the base of the tail. The belly is a distinctive off-white which may acquire a yellowish tinge in older individuals, but less so than those in more southerly populations. The gliding membrane has a black margin and there is a black stripe on the outer side of the hind limb to the paw and lower limbs are black. Ears are pale coloured and bare.
Habitat and distribution
Yellow-bellied glider feed trees Photo: Eleanor Collins
The yellow-bellied glider occurs in eastern Australia from north Queensland (west of Mossman) to the south-west corner of Victoria. This northern subspecies is the most northern population and occurs along the western margin of the of the Wet Tropics bioregion from the Mt Windsor Tableland, west of Mosman, in the north to the Herbert River Gorge, west of Ingham, in the south. It is isolated by a 400 km gap to the next population which is on the Clark Ranges inland from Proserpine. This Wet Tropics population is restricted to altitudes above 600 m. It is subdivided by natural gaps in their habitat into three subpopulations: the Mt Windsor Tableland, the Mt Carbine Tableland and the Cardwell Range.
The glider’s habitat is very tall, 25-40 m, wet eucalypt open forest. The presence of two eucalypt species is essential, red mahogany Eucalyptus resinifera (tapped for its sap) and large rose gums Eucalyptus grandis (used as the main den tree). Its habitat is restricted to a narrow band about 0.25 – 5.0 km wide which is an ecotone between rainforest and drier woodland ecosystems.
Life history and behaviour
The yellow-bellied glider is a nocturnal and arboreal gliding marsupial. Glides of over 100 m by adults have been recorded, but are usually much less. The yellow-bellied glider is one of the most vocal of marsupials and has a variety of calls that include loud distinctive shrieks, gurgling chatters and soft moans.
During the day the gliders shelter in den trees which are predominantly very large rose gums that have hollows large enough to accommodate family groups. Gliders live in family groups of 2-6 individuals, each group defends a home range of about 25 -120 ha. Individuals may travel up to one kilometre between the den and feed trees.
The diet is varied but a major food source is sap from the red mahogany tree, the only tree to be tapped for its sap by the Wet Tropics glider population. However, pollen, invertebrates, nectar, honeydew and manna are also consumed.
Births occur throughout the year with a single young spending around 100 days in the pouch. After a further 50 days in the den they move outside initially by climbing on trees and branches as opposed to gliding.
Threats to the yellow-bellied glider are predominantly associated with habitat alteration and fragmentation, threats include:
- The loss of habitat through rainforest encroachment which is thought to be the main threat to the glider, particularly where rainforest encroachment has reached an irreversible state of a denser closed forest with eucalyptus emergents. Changed fire regimes are thought to be the main contributing factor to rainforest expansion and long-term climate change also having an effect.
- Clearing and fragmentation of habitats. In the past, the wet eucalypt open forests of the Wet Tropics were subjected to clearing and disturbance for forestry and agriculture, especially in the Herberton-Ravenshoe area.
- Habitat modification with less clear impacts on the gliders include grazing by cattle affecting forest ground cover and understorey structure, and timber harvesting affecting forest canopy structure.
- Barbed wire fencing impact on the glider by causing injury, or entanglement and a loss of individuals.
- Climate change is likely to influence the distribution of habitat, through the migration of bioclimates that support habitat, and by influencing fire regimes.
Volunteers collecting data on yellow-bellied glider habitat Photo: Tablelands National Park Volunteers
A national recovery plan for the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) unnamed subspecies has been developed. The recovery plan identifies management actions to recover the species. These include:
- Conduct habitat planning, including defining essential habitat distribution.
- Implement fire regimes to maintain essential habitat.
- Protect and manage habitat outside of the protected area estates.
- Research the impacts of cattle grazing on glider habitat.
- Collect and analyse glider and barbed wire incident data to establish level of impact. and identify potential hotspot locations for targeted management.
- Undertake monitoring programs for yellow-bellied glider populations.
- Improve understanding of climate change impacts.
Since 2010 the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and the Tablelands National Park Volunteers have been gathering data on the occurrence, foraging and habitat of the yellow-bellied glider (northern subspecies). The project is progressively documenting the occurrence of the yellow-bellied glider between Atherton and Mt Pandanus, south of Ravenshoe, and mapping essential habitat trees (red mahogany trees tapped for sap and large rose gums as potential den trees).
Department of Environment and Resource Management 2011. National recovery plan for the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) Petaurus australis unnamed subspecies. Report to Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra.
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 2013. Yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) Petaurus australis unnamed subspecies in Species Profile and Threats Database.
Goldingay RL, Jackson SM. 2004 The Biology of Australian Possums and Gliders. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Sydney
Maxwell S, Burbidge AA and Morris K. 1996. The Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes. Wildlife Australia.
Russell R. 1984 Social behaviour of the Yellow-bellied Glider, Petaurus australis reginae in North Queensland. In 'Possums and Gliders'. (Eds AP Smith and ID Hume) pp. 343-353. (Australian Mammal Society: Sydney)
Strahan R 1998 Mammals of Australia, second edition. Australian Museum and Reed New Holland, Sydney, NSW.