The discovery of two new Australian glider species is a boon for biodiversity yet presents a serious challenge for conservation.

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“They’re like living Muppets,” Australian National University (ANU) ecologist Dr Kara Youngentob told me via Zoom. “Most people are more familiar with sugar gliders [a small, sweet-toothed glider species heavily exploited in the illicit international pet trade] – think of the greater glider as their bigger, lazier, fluffier cousin.”

The greater glider is the only member of the ringtail possum family that doesn’t have a grippy prehensile tail. But it is also unique from its relatives in that it dines exclusively on eucalyptus leaves (like koalas) and has gliding membranes that run only from its elbows to its ankles (unlike its cousins, which have membranes stretching to their forepaws). This allows them to perform more controlled glides and gives them something of a superhero quality in flight.

“When they jump, they put their little arms out in front of them like Wonder Woman,” said Youngentob. Similar to the comic book heroine, the species can also glide long distances – up to 100m between the treetops, where it dens in tree hollows that can take more than a century to form.

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