Australia’s blink-and-you-miss-it marsupial is the latest glider confirmed on Yourka Reserve, in far north Queensland. Is it a possum? A mouse? What is it?
These were the questions running through the mind of Yourka Reserve Manager Paul Hales when ecologist Terry Reis saw something scurry up the trunk of a eucalypt one night.
He was spotlighting – conducting a routine night-time species survey – and his torch beam had just caught the almost imperceptible glint of an eye in the forest. He steadied his torch and there they were: two little eyes peering back at him.
With a second torch and a pair of binoculars, the sighting was confirmed; crouching on the eucalypt branch before Paul was one of Australia’s elusive Feathertail Gliders.
This is the first time a Feathertail Glider has been sighted on Yourka Reserve. It means four of Queensland's six gliding mammals call the reserve home: Greater Gliders, Broad-toed Feathertail Gliders, Sugar Gliders and Squirrel Gliders.
Paul says the sighting is especially impressive because the minuscule Feathertail Glider is notoriously hard to spot high up in the treetops, where it spends most of its life.
At just 6cm to 8cm long and weighing little more than two sheets of paper, the Feathertail Glider is the world’s smallest glider species. Its namesake tail is fringed with stiff horizontal hairs, which act like a rudder as it glides through the forest canopy. Membranes extending from its elbows to its knees allow these nocturnal creatures to cover more than 20m in a single flight.
Australia’s gliding species most likely evolved their aerodynamic talents millions of years ago when our continent began drifting northwards. As it did so, rainforests thinned out and the mammals that lived in the canopy were forced to leap increasingly further.
The confirmation of Feathertail Gliders on Yourka indicates our management practices are working, according to Healthy Landscape Manager and ecologist Dr Alex Kutt. “
A finding like this gives you the confidence to say, ‘what we’re doing at the moment seems to be the right thing’, and to continue our work as planned.”
Name: Feathertail Glider (Acrobates pygmaeus)
Weight: About 12 grams Length: 6cm to 8cm
Lifespan: Up to eight years
Diet: Insects, pollen, seeds and nectar
Threats: Habitat destruction and feral predators such as cats and foxes
Trivia: Feathertail Gliders are fantastic climbers – they can run up smooth-barked trees and even a pane of glass!