Have you ever seen a sugar glider?

If not, you might want to find out a few fun things about these tiny marsupials:

* An adult sugar glider weighs the same as a stick of butter and is about six inches long (not including its tail).

* They are native to Australia and New Guinea.

* They get their names because they like to eat sweet things (sugar) and because they can glide through the air like flying squirrels (glider).

* And perhaps most importantly, as cute as these animals are, they don't make good kid pets!

In the wild, sugar gliders eat fruit and the sap from eucalyptus and acacia trees. They can "fly" because of patagia, a membrane between the fore and hind legs that allow the animals to glide through the air like flying squirrels. They can glide for up to 150 feet and are so graceful that their scientific name is Petaurus breviceps, which means "short-headed rope dancer."

In this country, sugar gliders are known as exotic pets, which means they are a non-native species. While sugar gliders are legal pets in Maryland, Virginia and the District, some states have banned them. There are concerns about how sugar gliders might affect native animal populations if the marsupials were released into the wild.

Still, sugar gliders have become very popular pets, especially on college campuses. There are approximately 27,000 sugar gliders in the United States, and they are the most-searched-for topic on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Care Web site.

Still, breeders warns that gliders need lots of care and attention. "This is not your little brother's hamster," says Lisa Bordelon, a breeder in Florida.

Sugar gliders are most active at night (nocturnal) and need special diets and habitats to thrive. Gliders can live in captivity for 10 to 15 years. They make several loud sounds, including "crabbing," which resembles the noise made by an angry squirrel! They are very social animals that prefer living in colonies (groups) with lots of space to explore. So they're probably not going to be happy living alone in a small cage with only occasional acknowledgement from their owner between classes, or after sports and homework.

Letting gliders romp around unsupervised out of a cage is not a good idea:

* They are difficult to housebreak, so you are likely to find droppings and puddles in the most curious places.

* Some sugar gliders gnaw furniture, shred draperies and scamper underfoot.

* They can't swim, so falling into a bucket of water or the toilet could be fatal.

Bordelon says, "They are like 2-year-olds. It's not a matter of if they will get into trouble, but when."

-- Ann Cameron Siegal

Sugar gliders are small, but they can get themselves in big trouble.