The northern palm squirrel (Funambulus pennantii), also known as the five-striped palm squirrel, is native to northern India where it lives around houses and causes damage to fruit and vegetable crops. The northern palm squirrel is introduced to Australia, and is established in Perth, Western Australia (WA). Until 1976 it was also established in Sydney, New South Wales in the locality of Taronga Zoo and a small population was established in Kew Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria.
In 1898, the squirrel was deliberately released in the grounds of the WA South Perth Zoo, as an enhancement to the park. Although the squirrel remained confined to the zoo grounds for many years, animals dispersed naturally and by human activities to an area of about 30km² outside the zoo grounds. Individual squirrels have also been located in other Perth suburbs and occasionally in country localities.
Northern palm squirrels are about the size of rats and have a bushy tail slightly shorter than the body. Their back is a grizzled grey-brown colour with five conspicuous white stripes, three of which run from head to tail. The two outer stripes run from the forelegs to the hind legs only. The belly is creamy white and the tail is covered with long interspersed black and white hairs. The ears are small and triangular.
Behaviour, habitat and food
Northern palm squirrels nest in trees, usually pine trees or exotic palms. Unlike other species of squirrel, the palm squirrel does not hibernate, but only emerges in winter in the late afternoon of sunny days. Their movement is rapid and darting and they can climb with great agility. The squirrel has no natural enemies in WA, with the possible exception of domestic cats. Breeding takes place in grass nests during autumn. Litters of two or three are common. The young are weaned after about ten weeks and are sexually mature at nine months.
Northern palm squirrels live in and close to houses and gardens, and often damage gardens by eating the fruits and buds of plants and trees. They also scavenge for waste food and have been seen to steal school children's sandwiches. The squirrel can damage electrical wiring in houses, creating a potential fire risk. The diet includes seeds, fruit, nuts, insects and birds' eggs. In India, the palm squirrel is a serious pest of orchards and nurseries and causes damage to a wide range of fruit and vegetable crops. In WA, the squirrel is a potential pest of vine and fruit crops and a risk to native birds by eating their eggs. Native birds nesting in city parks and gardens would be at risk.
Because of the northern palm squirrel's potential to damage horticulture crops, wiring in houses and nesting birds, the species is a declared pest throughout WA. The Western Australian Organism List (WAOL) contains information on the area(s) in which this pest is declared and the control and keeping categories to which it has been assigned in WA. Use the links on this page to reach northern palm squirrel in WAOL.
If you see an animal which might be a squirrel, please contact the Pest and Disease Information Service.