Scientists discover 2 new Greater Glider species in Australia resembling Gremlins

Having more species adds to biodiversity but that means more species are endangered too.

Zhangxin Zheng | November 10, 2020, 05:59 PM

A recent discovery of two new Greater Glider species has gotten scientists in Australia excited.

This piece of good news came from a study on the genetic diversity of greater gliders, which was conducted in light of climate change and after the unprecedented forest fire ravaging animals' habitat earlier this year.

Only in Australia

The Greater Glider is the largest of the gliding possums endemic to Australia.

They only feed on eucalypt leaves and live on mature trees in eucalypt forests, ranging from northern Queensland to southern Victoria.

Similar to the koalas, these gliders prefer not to move as much so as to conserve their energy due to the low-nutrition diet.

An ecological scientist from the Australian National University, Kara Youngentob, describes to IFScience how the critters remained extremely chill despite being disturbed by the researchers:

"... they are sometimes captured for study by shooting out the branch they are sitting on, at which point they glide to the ground. 'Sometimes it takes a few shots, which are really loud,' Youngentob said, 'And they're just sitting there and looking at you as if to say, 'What are you doing?''"

Scientists found that unlike what they presumed about the Greater Glider, the species are not exactly well-distributed across Australia.

Instead of one species (Petauroides volans), there are three species of Greater Glider distributed across the country: Petauroides volans in the south, Petauroides minor in the north and Petauroides armillatus in the central region.

Very little is known about the two newly discovered species, Petauroides minor and Petauroides armillatus.

The three species can be distinguished by their physical appearances, such as ear and body size, pelage colour, and geographical distribution.

The size of the gliders gets smaller the further north they live, for example.

The scientists also observed how the gliders used their tails differently, which prompted them to the species divisions.

The tails are not used to grip branches but as a counterweight while sitting, and during mating seasons, some gliders would sit together and have their tails wrapped around each other, according to IFScience.

Greater gliders from the north (top left), central (bottom left) and south (right). Photos by Denise McGregor (top left) and Jasmine Vink (bottom left and right) via Science Reports.

While the three species are genetically isolated, they are not reproductively isolated.

This explains the observation of hybrids between the gliders in the north and central Australia.

Conservation efforts become more urgent

The study said that data has shown that the population of the Greater Glider has been on an "alarming" decline and there were "localised" population extinctions in the past 20 years.

The study cited other reports which suggested that land clearing and climate change contributed to the population declines of the Greater Glider in the past decade.

The marsupial was previously classified as "Vulnerable" globally.

The conservation status of the Greater Glider is now being reassessed after the recent widespread fires in Australia.

As the Greater Glider is being divided into three species, the fire impact on each species will be even more substantial, increasing conservation concerns over these animals.

Youngentob said:

"The division of the greater glider into multiple species reduces the previous widespread distribution of the original species, further increasing conservation concern for that animal and highlighting the lack of information about the other greater glider species."

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Top photo by Steven Kuiter via ANU news.