“On the morning of 14th April 2014, I was admiring the flowers of a Gelam tree (Melaleuca cajuputi, family Myrtaceae) along a coastal park in Singapore, when an adult male Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) arrived onto the scene (above).
“It soon became apparent that there was only one thing on his mind – nectar. This thirsty squirrel visited blossom after blossom, rapidly flicking out its tongue to lap up the floral fluids with much enthusiasm (above, below).
“Video clips of the squirrel relishing every drop of the nectar may be previewed below.
“In southern Vietnam, Melaleuca cajuputi is known to be pollinated by bees (Apis sp.) and its nectar has been found to be sweetest in the morning (around 10am), when the sugar value is highest (Nguyen, 2008). This may explain why the Plantain Squirrel was so engrossed in its pursuit of nectar around that time of day. However, there does not appear to be any published records of squirrels as pollinators of Melaleuca cajuputi, despite their demonstrated potential to perform such an ecological function. In Sarawak, for example, the flowers of Madhuca sp. (family Sapotaceae) were visited by three species of squirrels and one species of flying squirrel (Yumoto et al., 2000). Apart from squirrels and bees, nectar-feeding bats have also been recognised as pollinators of Melaleuca cajuputi (Fleming et al., 2009).
“Let us not forget that birds also have a part to play! Previously, Johnny Wee has documented the feeding of Gelam nectar by the Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) LINK.
“After witnessing the squirrel feeding furiously on Gelam nectar, I was reminded of another encounter in April 2011, when I watched the same species of squirrel capturing and devouring live cicadas (above) at the same site (Leong et al., 2011). I cannot help but be impressed by how versatile and adaptable these squirrels can be in their quest for survival.”
Dr. Leong Tzi Ming
18th April 2014
1. Fleming, T. H., C. Geiselman & W. J. Kress, 2009. The evolution of bat pollination: a phylogenetic perspective. Annals of Botany, 104: 1017–1043.
2. Leong, T. M., Aminurashid & B. P. Y-H. Lee, 2011. Records of the cicada, Chremistica umbrosa (Distant, 1904) in Singapore, with accounts of its mass emergence (Homoptera: Cicadidae: Cicadinae). Nature in Singapore, 4: 163–175.
3. Nguyen, Q. T., 2008. Pollination ecology of Melaleuca cajuputi, Nypa fruticans and their flower visitors. Journal of Apicultural Research, 47(1): 10–16.
4. Yumoto, T., K. Momose & H. Nagamasu, 2000. A new pollination syndrome – squirrel pollination in a tropical rainforest in Lambir Hills National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia. Tropics, 9(2): 147–151.