VINALHAVEN, Maine — Sugar gliders are big-eyed, chipmunk-size marsupials that can be found in Australia, Madagascar and parts of Indonesia.
They also live on Vinalhaven, thanks to the efforts of Hannah Lazaro, a lobsterman and animal lover who has been breeding the cartoonlike critters in her island home for about two years through her Island Gliders business.
“It’s like two pets in one,” she said while feeding squirming mealworms to a sugar glider named Michi. “In the night time, they’re like crazy little monkeys. In the daytime they’re like a pet potato.”
Lazaro, 27, said that she first learned of marsupials on the television channel Animal Planet one night, and had to learn more.
“Somebody mentioned they were pets, not just a cute wild animal,” she said. “I had to look into it.”
After researching them, she was hooked, and drove five hours to Derry, N.H., to get her first two gliders. That was about two years ago. Today, she and her husband Kurt have six breeding pairs that live in spacious cages in a dedicated room in their home. It used to be the computer room, Lazaro said, but that has changed. So far, she has sold about 15 of the marsupials for prices ranging from $250 to $1,500 for the most unusually colored animals.
She is currently the only breeder in the state. An official with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Friday that sugar gliders are on the state’s unrestricted wildlife species list and people don’t need any special permits to keep them.
“We don’t deal with them very often,” Caroline Hailey of the DIF&W said Friday. Another marsupial — a wallaby named Kingston — recently made headlines because its Aroostook County owners unknowingly broke state animal importation laws when they brought it to Maine.
Lazaro said that she checks annually to make sure that sugar gliders remain unrestricted.
“I wanted people in Maine to have a chance to get gliders,” she said, reaching a hand inside one of the fleece pouches that hangs on the walls of each cage.
That is where the gliders sleep during the day, nestled in a soft furry heap with their breeding partner. They can be woken up during the day, but they are quieter than they are at night, docilely eating the treats that Lazaro feeds them and looking around them with their enormous eyes.
When the sun goes down, it’s a different story. She lets the gliders out of the cages a pair at a time and gives them the run of their room. They scamper up a mesh curtain she has hung on one wall and glide around on their patagium — a membrane that stretches from their wrists to their ankles. They also play with toys and chew on things with sharp little teeth.
What they never do is go outside.
“I could lose them,” Lazaro said.
They also aren’t allowed to leave the glider room. She has many other pets, including six ferrets, a gerbil, a chinchilla and two dogs. In the wild, sugar gliders eat small animals and might pose a danger to the gerbil, she said, and might be in danger from some of the other pets. In addition to the mealworms, she feeds them a homemade concoction of eggs, honey and juice — they’re known as sugar gliders because they have a sweet tooth, she said.
When they breed, sugar gliders embryos gestate inside their mothers for just 16 days. Then, the tiny joeys — the size of a grain of rice — crawl into the mother’s pouch and stay there for an additional 63 days.
“They’re instinct driven, and blind,” Lazaro said of the tiny marsupials.
In some places, including the animal’s native Australia, they are not allowed to be kept as pets, she said.
And while Lazaro is entranced by their antics, she cautioned that they are not for everyone.
“They are not good pets for kids at all,” she said. “They are awake when kids are asleep. They can move very fast, and frighten the kids. They have sharp teeth and claws. They require a lot of specific care. You have to know what you’re doing.”
But for the right owner, they can be the perfect pet.
“They are super cute,” she said.