The Gliding Possum

Lucky me … while camping in the Watagan Mountains south of Newcastle, New South Wales, I was visited in the middle of a cold, calm night by Yellow-bellied Gliders, Petaurus australis. Even more amazingly, they sounded off just few feet from my microphone, letting loose with outrageous squealing ducky growls quite unlike any animal sound I have ever heard.

Squealing growls of Yellow-bellied Gliders, recorded in the middle of the night in the Watagan Mountains near Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia. 8 October 2012. (silent intervals between calls have been reduced)

Painting of the Yellow-bellied Glider, Petaurus australisAdapted for gliding from tree to to tree, these extraordinary marsupials (including other species of Petaurus) are an excellent example of convergent evolution, often being compared to our own two species of flying squirrels, Glaucomys volans (Eastern Flying Squirrel) and Glaucomys sabrinus (Northern Flying Squirrel). They are able to glide with the help of a thin membrane of furry skin that extends from the elbow of each foreleg to the knee of each hind leg. When leaping, the legs are extended, allowing for downward glides of 200 feet or longer.

The Yellow-bellied Glider is about the size of a small rabbit, and is the largest of Australia’s various Petaurus gliders. Living in family groups, the species is quite vocal, as I discovered myself by spending nights in the forest. When Carl and I heard one growl during our first evening in the Watagan’s, we had no idea what we were hearing, though we presumed the source to be a marsupial mammal of some sort.

Feeding on nectar, pollen, and insects, the Yellow-bellied is also known to gnaw V-shaped incisions in the bark of trees in order to promote the flow of sap. The Yellow-bellied’s range is restricted to a narrow band of Eucalyptus forest extending from Queensland to Victoria. Uncommon to rare in many areas, it is considered threatened over much of its range (though it appears to be quite common in the Watagans).

Range Map of the Yellow-bellied Glider

Comments

  1. My cat sits with me at the computer every night and I’m so glad I’m listening with headphones. He’s sound asleep and this would send him racing down into the basement for sure! These sounds must have been so startling unless you already knew what they were – and maybe even if you already did! Profoundly cool!

  2. I agree. AMAZING! Absolutely amazing! I would never have known these were “natural” sounds. They remind me more of some kind of high tension wire blowing in the wind in a thunderstorm!

  3. Thanks Lang! Now I now what a Boobook Owl sounds like. I’ve heard of them, but never heard recordings of them. I just got your comment today.

  4. Marie:

    Yes, the echo is real. I notice a lot of echo in rainforest settings. In this case, I was camped next to a small stream with a steep forested slope on the opposite side, and lots of giant Eucalyptus trees all around me.

    Zack:

    That is a Boobook Owl sounding off softly in the distance.

    Jackie:

    True, it’s not relaxing. But it certainly is a crowd-pleaser!

  5. Absolutely amazing! I’ve never even heard of a Yellow-Bellied Glider until now! What wonderful and somewhat eerie sounds they make.

  6. Lang, The glider sounds are just amazing! I listened to the sounds over and over again. They are quite outstanding. I’ll bet you felt truly lucky to hear such amazing calls. I doubt if their calls would be great for background relaxing noises at a spa. Ha! Your sister, Jackie

  7. Good heavens…how amazing! It sounds really echoey…is that really the calling or is it a function of the equipment or the environment..or???? If the call, I wonder how they achieve that effect and whether it has a function in some way. Like it would carry better in the habitat or something????

  8. Amazing patience on your part, I am sure. Interesting face created on the map by the distribution! Bravo. I adore lunatics like you who enrich our lives because of their obsessions!! Truly.

  9. I would be interested in finding out what the vocalizations are for–territorial,communicating through the darkness, disputes between males? They sound unearthly–how lucky you were to get this recorded and thanks for sharing.

  10. Absolutely amazing! What a great sound they make. I’ll bet that was an interesting night when you first heard them calling from the dark.
    How close were they to the microphones?
    Wil

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