Indian palm squirrels originate from Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
Indian palm squirrels are mammals of the genus funambulus and consist of five distinct species of animals. Indian palm squirrels have approximately the same body size as a black rat. The two most abundant and best-known Indian palm squirrel species, F. pennantii and F. palmarum range in size from 225–400 mm total length (including 110–120 mm long tail).
The fur colour of Indian palm squirrels is generally grey-brown with some species being a little more reddish. The belly is creamy white or brownish (except F. layardi, which has a reddish belly). The tail is covered with interspersed long black and white hairs. The ears are small and triangular. Like other species in the Order Rodentia, palm squirrels have chisel-sharp incisor teeth that grow constantly.
Indian palm squirrels have large bushy tails and a series of conspicuous brown and white stripes running along their bodies. All species of Indian palm squirrel have at least three stripes, but F. pennantii has two additional paler stripes on its sides, running between hind and forelegs.
Indian palm squirrels are a significant pest of orchards and nurseries in India where they cause serious damage to fruits and vegetables. Palm squirrels consume the flowers and ripe fruit and also nibble and drop unripe fruit. Damage to sugarcane and groundnut crops has also been reported in India.
Nine species of ‘tree squirrels’ have naturalised outside of their natural range including the Mexican red-bellied squirrel (Sciurus aureogaster); which naturalised in Florida and the belly-banded squirrel, which escaped from in Oshima zoo in Japan, in the 1930s or 1940s.
The Five-striped palm squirrel (F. pennantii) recently naturalised in suburbs around Perth after escaping from the Perth zoo and is under active control to prevent the species causing damage to citrus, stone fruits, ornamental garden plants and electrical wiring in the roofs of houses. Until 1976, F. Pennantii was also established in Sydney, in the locality of Taronga Zoo and a small population was established in Kew Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria.
In Perth, (F. pennantii) breed from August to May. Gestation period is about 42 days. Litter size varies from one to five young (average 2–3) and females can have two litters per year. Young are born in grass nests, usually constructed in a tree, but sometimes in a wall or roof. The young are weaned after about 10 weeks and are sexually mature at nine months. In captivity, palm squirrels (generally F. pennantii) have been described as “extremely flighty” and only have a five to six year life span. In the wild (India), they live for at least 18 months.
Indian palm squirrels such as (F. pennantii) are not listed as ‘specimens taken to be suitable for live import’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). This means that live F. pennantii cannot be imported into Australia. As a reflection of the biosecurity risks these species present, Indian palm squirrels such as F. pennantii are classified as Prohibited Dealings under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (NSW). It is an offence to keep this species in NSW unless authorised, for example under the Exhibited Animals Protection Act 1986 (NSW) or Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW).