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Thermal biology, torpor and behaviour in sugar gliders: a laboratory-field comparison


Most studies on animal physiology and behaviour are conducted in captivity without verification that data are representative of free-ranging animals. We provide the first quantitative comparison of daily torpor, thermal biology and activity patterns, conducted on two groups of sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps, Marsupialia) exposed to similar thermal conditions, one in captivity and the other in the field. Our study shows that activity in captive gliders in an outdoor aviary is restricted to the night and largely unaffected by weather, whereas free-ranging gliders omit foraging on cold/wet nights and may also forage in the afternoon. Torpor occurrence in gliders was significantly lower in captivity (8.4% after food deprivation; 1.1% for all observations) than in the field (25.9%), mean torpor bout duration was shorter in captivity (6.9 h) than in the field (13.1 h), and mean body temperatures during torpor were higher in captivity (25.3°C) than in the field (19.6°C). Moreover, normothermic body temperature as a function of air temperature differed between captive and free-ranging gliders, with a >3°C difference at low air temperatures. Our comparison shows that activity patterns, thermal physiology, use of torpor and patterns of torpor may differ substantially between the laboratory and field, and provides further evidence that functional and behavioural data on captive individuals may not necessarily be representative of those living in the wild.

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T a :

Air temperature

T b :

Body temperature

T skin :

Skin temperature


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We thank Chris Pavey and Craig Willis for constructive comments on the manuscript. The work was supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council to FG. The UNE Animal Ethics Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW approved experiments.

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Correspondence to Fritz Geiser.

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Communicated by I.D. Hume.

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Geiser, F., Holloway, J.C. & Körtner, G. Thermal biology, torpor and behaviour in sugar gliders: a laboratory-field comparison. J Comp Physiol B 177, 495–501 (2007).

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