The Koala is beloved by millions worldwide – but here in the Wombat Forest we have a lesser known marsupial that surely rivals the Koala – the Greater Glider.
Greater Gliders have huge fluffy ears, a gliding membrane that stretches across all four legs and a very long tail that is used for steering when they glide. The Greater Glider is unique in that it’s the only gliding member of the family Pseudocheiridae, meaning it’s more closely related to Ringtail Possums (Pseudocheirus sp.) than other Australian gliders such as the Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) or the Feathertail Glider (Acrobates pygmaeus).
Greater Gliders are well named. A Greater Glider can easily glide 100 metres, and even turn direction mid-glide thanks to their tail. Like the famous Koala, the Greater Glider eats mainly eucalyptus leaves, and so needs a wide variety of eucalyptus trees to feed from.
Unlike the koala, gliders need hollows to sleep and breed in, indeed they cannot survive without hollows. And the size of the hollows they need is very huge! For big hollows – you need big trees.
However, the Wombat Forest is a regrowth forest – it was clear-felled completely during the gold era, and then after the forest regrew, it was logged again in the early 1900s. This means that there are very few trees in the forest large enough for gliders. Every large old hollow bearing tree still standing in the forest is over 200 years old – a precious resource!
Greater Gliders live in the forests along the east coast of Australia, and the Wombat Forest is the westernmost distribution of this vulnerable species. So when the storms raged through the forest for 24 hours last June, those of us in the forest who care for the gliders were appalled to see number of large old trees that had been uprooted by the ferocious wind storm.
Gorgeous old gums and stringybarks around Bullarto, Babbington Hill, Mollonghip, Ashbourne lay upended on the ground – these old giants could still provide habitat for other threatened fauna species such as Brush-tailed Phascogale – but sadly are no longer available for the gliders!
Powerful Owls, Gang-gang Cockatoos and Mountain Brush-tailed Possums also need standing large old hollow trees, and it will take a couple of hundred years for these large hollows to form.
Nature plays a long game – and happily the storm damage will have helped to break branches and allow fungal spores to enter trees for new hollows to form. In fact the storm may have sped up the hollow formation process! If we apply sensitive management to the forest we have still standing, then there is hope for our iconic Wombat Forest wildlife.
The bushfires of 2019-2020 also had a devastating effect on the habitat of the Greater Glider. Approximately 30 per cent of its range was affected by the fires. In 2020 the Federal Government’s Bushfire Expert Panel “prioritised the species for urgent management action”. In October 2021 the species (Petauroides volans) was uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered across its range through the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
And these fluffy flying teddies of the forest need our help now more than ever as logging is set to affect 175 logging coupes, much of which are glider habitat. Head to VNPA’s page to create a letter or phone call to our MP. And to read more about our gliders – check out this report!
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Greater Glider was related to Sugar Gliders. Tanya has corrected the error in this version.)
Tanya Loos is a local naturalist, author and environmental consultant who loves to work in the environmental not-for-profit sector. She is the author of “Daylesford Nature Diary” available from her website or from Paradise Books in Vincent Street, Daylesford.
Have you got any nature questions for Tanya? Send them in!