Torpor and activity patterns in free-ranging sugar gliders Petaurus breviceps (Marsupialia)
Almost all studies on daily torpor in mammals have been conducted in the laboratory under constant environmental conditions. We investigated torpor and activity patterns in free-ranging sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps, 100 g) using temperature telemetry and compared field data with published information obtained in the laboratory. Body and/or skin temperature and activity patterns of 12 sugar gliders were monitored from autumn to spring. Healthy sugar gliders were active between sunset and sunrise, but on cold or rainy nights activity was substantially reduced. Animals in poor condition occasionally foraged during the day. Eleven gliders were monitored for 8–171 days and all of these entered daily torpor. Torpor was observed on 103 days (17% of observation days), usually occurred on rainy or cold nights, and frequency of torpor changed with season. Torpor bouts lasted between 2 and 23 h (average 13 h) and the body temperature fell to a minimum of 10.4°C. Torpor was thus much deeper, longer and more frequent than in laboratory studies on the same species. Our study shows that cold or wet conditions curtail foraging in wild sugar gliders and that they employ daily torpor regularly during adverse weather. This suggests that minimisation of energy loss by the use of torpor in sugar gliders is pivotal for their survival in the wild.