Common squirrels seen in India, probably Indian palm squirrels; seem to have drastic different behaviour. And all squirrels of a definite locality, behave in a very consistently same whay. That seems like My drastic experiences at 3 localities were as follows.

  1. On West Bengal (Howrah, Hooghly and Burdwan District): Squirrels seem to be incredibly timid. They always maintain a safe distance from human being. They sometimes consume human food leftover, or respond to cater; but the feeder person needs to be go away from the spot. They are also quite a bit picky eater, among human remains they mainly depend on paddy, some of them don't even touch grounnuts.

  2. On Uttarpradesh Tourist spots, particularly Agra and Delhi, squirrels come too close to the tourists. Sometimes they take food directly from human hand. Some of them even follow the tourist population for foods. Some of these squirrels are very aggressive, however they are somewhat vulnerable because people easily touch them. They aren't very picky eaters, rather they are sort of gluttony... eats whatever the tourists feed them.

  3. On Uttarakhand state, on many places (including the non-tourist) the squirrels come very closer to human being. Not always for food, but they just come too close to human being. They aren't aggressive. They aren't very picky eaters. Though some are little bit timid; some are super easy to touch. They are super vulnerable.

I'm really surprised how the behaviour of these 3-striped squirrels vary throughout India and is consistent with locality. Learnt behaviour from parent/ peer squirrels? Epigenetic imprints? Genetic variability? Scarcity of foods? Its super surprising.

  • $\begingroup$ Scarcity of foods sounds like a convincing hypothesis. You could also argue that different squirrel types might prefer the food that tourists offer them. It could also be due to differences in hunting and pest control in different geographical regions. $\endgroup$
    – Jam
    Jul 18, 2019 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


Given that you're dealing with fairly smart mammals with a short lifespan and limited distance migration, it seems likely that you're dealing with strong local selection effects that are going to be reflected in all three layers:

  • Learned behaviors from observing other squirrels and their own interactions with humans.
  • Epigenetic effects tied to things like maternal stress
  • Differences in the frequency of genetic tendencies towards caution / aggression, etc.

Now, what would the source of those differences be? I don't know if anybody's studied these particular cases, but there's some pretty strong candidate hypotheses for a starting point:

  • In West Bengal, you're dealing with high-density non-touristy areas (especially Howrah, right on the edge of Kolkata). The squirrels there are likely in constant conflict with humans who do not want to be sharing their food, which will select strongly for aversion to humans. Humans might well be poisoning them as a means of control too, which could explain the picky eating.
  • In tourist spots anywhere, the squirrels are probably getting fed well by humans either intentionally or accidentally (e.g., careless children), whcih will select strongly for attraction/aggression toward humans. I'll bet you'd see this in Victoria Memorial too, for all that it's right next door to Howrah.
  • In Uttarakhand, which is a much lower density state than West Bengal (189/km^2 vs. 1029/km^2), you're probably seeing much more of the default state of interaction, without a strong selection in either direction.
  • $\begingroup$ Wow you know so much on Kolkata! I went Victoria Memorial probably only once at childhood and can only faintly remember about it. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Jul 23, 2019 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @AlwaysConfused I have a family connection over there. :-) $\endgroup$
    – jakebeal
    Jul 23, 2019 at 14:08

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