The word rodent often elicits different responses from people. It is also assumed that all rodents look like the common rat. The Three-striped Palm Squirrel Funambulus palmarum however, though a rodent, is tolerated by most people. This may also be, perhaps, due to its mythological connections. This squirrel has managed to co-exist with humans and we seem to have a soft corner for this little rodent. Be it forests, gardens, parks or even amidst human dwellings it seems to be at comfort . It seems to be perfectly at home walking across streets on a telephone wire like a trapeze artist, scaling rough walls of buildings and often entering our homes.
These squirrels can frequently be seen chasing one another, grooming each other and at times sunning themselves on cold days on the branches of trees. They can be seen carrying away empty ice-cream cups to salvage whatever little is left in it; or they can be spotted cautiously carrying a huge ball of fibre to build their nest which is placed in tree holes, amid branches of trees, in holes in the walls, or even in the ventilator of a residence! These rodents are bold and often come close to humans only to scamper away at the slightest threat. However, some individuals are bold and do make a meal of goodies right out of one’s hands. Perhaps due to these and other antics, this squirrel is endearing to all of us.
Fruits, nuts, nectar, tender shoots, flower buds, bark, insects and food put out by humans are all consumed. A morsel of plain cooked rice put out by my mother and meant for crows, is eaten regularly by these squirrels at my residence. Having obtained something edible it often sits on its haunches and uses its forelegs to manipulate food.
The Three-striped Palm Squirrel is predominantly found in peninsular India while its cousin, the Five-striped Palm Squirrel Funambulus pennanti is common in North India. Both these are associated with man and cities, while other related species of striped squirrels as also the Malabar Giant Squirrel, Grizzled Giant Squirrel and the nocturnal Flying Squirrels are forest dwellers.