Australia’s greater glider, the clumsy possum

By Bec Crew | November 4, 2014

Part of the ringtail possum family, this greater glider lacks the typical prehensile tail

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Bec Crew

Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.

MEET THE AUSTRALIAN greater glider (Petauroides volans), a pretty marsupial species whose awkward gait has earned it the rather dubious honour of being named one of the clumsiest gliding possums in the world.

This nocturnal, solitary creature is found throughout the eucalypt forests of eastern Australia, from up in Mossman, Queensland right down to the town of Daylesford in Victoria. Just like a koala, it has a highly specialised diet, and feeds exclusively on eucalypt leaves, buds, flowers and mistletoe.

With large gliding membranes that run along its sides and a luxurious, fluffy coat, this slight, cat-sized animal looks a whole lot bigger than it actually is.

It usually comes in either dark or light grey varieties, but if you’re lucky, you might spot an almost completely white one in the wild, like the ghostly beauty pictured above.

Greater glider a ringtail possum

The greater glider is the largest species in the ringtail possum family Pseudocheiridae, and the only one that doesn’t have a prehensile, grippy tail. And unlike most gliders – such as the Australian sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) – its gliding membranes don’t extend all the way from its wrists to its ankles.

Instead, the greater glider’s membranes run only from its elbows to its ankles, making it look sort of like flying triangle when it’s in the air. But that’s nothing to scoff about – this flying triangle can glide for distances of up to 100 metres at a time if it needs to.

And sometimes it does. The greater glider is something of a home hoarder, maintaining up to 20 tree-trunk dens at a time within its territory, and gliding is pretty much the only practical way of travelling between them all.

The greater glider’s large, flappy gliding membranes might be perfect for keeping it up in the air, but they sure don’t do it any favours when it finds itself on the ground.

The awkward struggle that is a grounded greater glider has led to its reputation of being one of the clumsiest species of glider in the world.