If you are a lover of cute animals you’ll be excited to know that two new greater glider species have been discovered in Australia. This brings the total species count for adorable flying possums to three.
Greater gliders are sweet little marsupials who resemble a small cat or possum. They work only at night and are vegetarians who munch on eucalyptus leaves. Not to be mistaken with the typical possum, and their terrifying chainsaw noises, greater gliders are quiet and can glide as far as 100 metres between trees.
Researchers from the Australian National University, James Cook University, the University of Canberra and the CSIRO worked together to differentiate the new species, according to The Guardian. Up until this point, ecologists had agreed that there were different sizes and colours of gliders along the east coast of Australia. But classifications and taxonomy had not been agreed upon.
The teams ran genetic tests from tissue samples taken from gliders in parts of Queensland, Victoria and museum specimens. Researchers found they were profoundly different and have now branched out into three distinct species. The known species, Petauroides volans, is joined by two new branches named Petauroides minor and Petauroides armillatus.
“Australia’s biodiversity just got a lot richer. It’s not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals,” said Professor Andrew Krockenberger, one of the researchers from James Cook University. The study can be read in full at Scientific Reports.
Why Greater Glider Species Are At Risk
Sadly, gliders are incredibly vulnerable to bushfires and land clearing. The Australian bushfires earlier this year wiped out nearly one-third of the greater gliders’ habitat. Now that there are two extra species in the mix, the urgency to study and protect these gliders has increased significantly.
Researchers previously thought that the first greater gliders species, Petauroides volans, ranged from Victoria to as far north as Townsville in QLD. But now this will all need to be re-examined. It’s likely that some of the greater glider species were more heavily impacted by the bushfires than first thought.
Greater gliders need certain habitats to survive. In particular, they seek out older trees with hollows where they can hide during the day. Professor Brendan Wintle, an ecologist at the University of Melbourne, said that Petauroides volans was already known to be declining sharply in numbers. He emphasised the importance of preserving these species’ numbers and that if we didn’t “it would be up there with losing the Tasmanian tigers.”
The research team spoke positively about the unique and sweet nature of the greater glider species.
“During mating season you will see them sitting together with their long fluffy tails intertwined,” Dr. Kara Youngetob, one of the researchers from ANU, said.
I swear I would die for them.