Australian scientists have made a once-in-a-career discovery: that the greater glider is actually three separate species instead of just one.
The discovery comes as the number of gliders has been declining rapidly because of habitat loss, bushfires and climate change.
Researchers from James Cook University, the Australian National University, the University of Canberra and CSIRO were able to analyse the DNA of the marsupials to prove the theory that the greater gliders found in different parts of Australia were in fact different species.
Wildlife ecologist and research fellow at the ANU, Dr Kara Youngentob, said the discovery was sparked by her PhD student Denise McGregor's project which was examining why the gliders varied so much according to climate.
The nocturnal creatures are about the size of cats, with fluffy fur and long tails. The gliders found in the north of Australia are about half the size of the ones found in the south, with much shorter, brownish fur.
Their southern cousins have long fur, like Persian cats, which can be all white, all black, or a combination of white and black.
"She was like, 'these are super different', so she sent tissue samples for genetic analysis, DArT (Diversity Arrays) sequencing ... even though they were different she was floored to find out that there was very little possibility she was looking at the same species."
As a single species, the greater glider is currently listed as vulnerable. Its conservation status is being reconsidered at a federal level to determine whether it should be increased to endangered.
Long-term data sets have shown the population has declined by over 80 per cent and it has even gone extinct in some local areas due to a combination of land clearing, more intense and frequent fires and climate change.
Professor Andrew Krockenberger, who also supervised Ms McGregor's PhD project, said the greater glider used to be the most common thing found in the forest 20 years ago and now they were much more difficult to spot.
"They've had dramatic declines in parts of their range. It's a bit of a dangerous thing if you're wildlife and called common," he said.
Dr Youngentob hoped the discovery would put the little-known animal into the spotlight.
"I think it plays second fiddle to the koala too often, and if people understood what adorable animals gliders were, surely they would fall in love with them just the same," she said.
"They have very long tails that they use as like a counterbalance, and during the season when two gliders are getting together to make another little glider, you often see the males and females perched in the tops of the trees with their long tails wrapped around each other hanging down, which is very endearing."
Gliders can be spotted in the treetops of Brindabella National Park with the help of a torch.
The research was published in Scientific Reports.