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Last Updated: Friday September 12 2008 12:49 GMT

Row over cute new pet craze

Skye the sugar glider

Cats and dogs are often thought of as Britain's favourite pets, but it looks like there's a new contender for the crown - sugar gliders.

You've probably never heard of them but they are little exotic mammals which are only about 15cm long but can glide in the air for up to 60 metres.

They're usually found in Australia or New Guinea, and now they're being snapped up by animal lovers in the UK.

But the RSPCA animal charity says it doesn't recommend them as pets.

Sian Bailey, who breeds the gliders in the UK, says they bond well with humans and are very inquisitive.

Skye the sugar glider
Sugar gliders need to live in pairs so they don't get lonely

But she admits they're a lot harder to look after than your average pet.

"It's not easy to buy food for them from just any pet store," she said. "You have to give them live insects, locusts, or meal worms, and I give them fresh fruit and vegetables."

Pairs

Sugar gliders are nocturnal creatures, which means they like to sleep during the day and come to life at night.

They belong to the marsupial group which includes cute animals like koalas and kangaroos.

They also like to live in pairs so they don't get lonely, they need lots of space and can live for up to 15 years.

Damaged

The RSPCA says it doesn't recommend the tiny critters as pets as they're used to living in a very different environment to someone's home.

It said: "These animals are used to hot, damp living conditions, can become ill or die if given an improper diet, don't like noise created by TVs or radios and can have their eyesight damaged by bright light."