Monday, 2 August 2010

the plantain squirrel

I am convinced that there is a squirrel nest under my roof because from time to time, I hear movements and shuffling noises in the ceiling boards above. It's quite disconcerting to know that there's some thing living up there. It's a good thing i'm moving out early next year.

Anyway, there is quite a large population of plantain squirrels in my estate, particularly my house thanks to the tall trees. Many of them can be seen scurrying around the branches of trees in the morning, search for food, particularly amongst the fruiting rambutan trees. (See photos) Some have even appeared scurrying about our car porches.

There used to be quite a fair number of species in Singapore but some of which, like the cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis), the tufted ground squirrel (Rheithrosciurus macrotis) and the red giant flying squirrel ( Petaurista petaurista) have become extinct. Some, like the, shrew-faced ground squirrel (Rhinosciurus laticaudatus), horsfield's flying squirrel (Iomys hosfieldii), slender squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis) and the red-cheeked flying squirrel (Hylopetes spadiceus) exists but are rarely seen. The Finlayson's or Variable Squirrel was recently seen in the Woodleigh / Bidadari cemetery area.

The Plantain squirrel is a species of rodent belonging to the Sciuridae family. It is also called Oriental or Tricoloured Squirrel but is also referred to as 'Beautiful Squirrel'. It is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand in a wide range of habitats: forests, mangroves, parks, gardens, agricultural areas. Fruit farmers consider them to be pests because they frequently forage amongst the trees for fruit even before they are picked. Some gardeners consider them pests as well, particularly those who grow heliconia because these squirrels frequently strip off the leaves.

These agile squirrels are a beautiful greyish brown, with a chestnut belly and a black-and-white line between the two. Its diet consists mostly of leaves and fruits, but they also eat insects and bird eggs. They are known to break open twigs that contain ant larvae to eat them. They can eat fruits much bigger than them, such as mangoes, jackfruits or coconuts. They are very quick and agile in trees and are able to jump a few metres between trees and rarely wander on the ground. They are most active during the day, more so in the morning and evening.

Like other squirrels, they scamper energetically among the undergrowth and trees. To do this, they have good eyesight, sharp claws and a long counterbalancing tail. Plantain Squirrels are very quiet, and often the first sign of their presence is a quick movement seen from the corner of your eye! They also make these distinct "click cluck" noises which are often mistaken as belonging to some bird.

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