What is the biggest squirrel you have ever seen of know off? An average squirrel an reached the length of 18cm measured from its head to tail. But have you ever heard of the magnificent Indian giant squirrel? This animal might look a bit too big to be a squirrel.
Squirrel expert John Koprowski first laid eyes on the Indian giant, also known as the Malabar giant squirrel, back in 2006 when he visited India in 2006. His initial thought was that these gorgeous animals where more like a primates than squirrels.
But the Malabar giant is in fact a squirrel, although it looks very different from the normal red squirrels we are used to. Malabar giant squirrels are enormous for their species and is in fact two times the size of an eastern grey squirrel, with bodies that span 91 centimetre from head to tail. “These are giants!” Koprowski, professor and associate director at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, said.
But not only is it the impressive size of the Malabar giant squirrels that makes them so unique, but it is also their unique and beautiful colour fur. It can be black, brown and orange, as well as maroon and purple. The maroon and purple shades, in particular, are unusual in mammals, Koprowski explained.
According to Koprowski, the maroon and purple shades are unusual in mammal, which makes these fellows even more unique. Koprowski added that these extraordinary coloration actually helps these giant squirrels survive in the wild. “In the shaded understory of a dense forest, the patchy colours and dark hues are a great adaptation to avoiding detection. But when you see these in the sunlight, they show their 'true colours' and beautiful pelage fur.”
What also adds to the Malabar giant squirrels’ distinctive appearance is their large furry ear tufts and robust forelimbs. These beauties live primarily in the forest canopy, where they leap from one tree to the next in search of food. They rarely touch the ground. Which makes them even harder to spot.
Pizza Ka Yee Chow, squirrel expert and research fellow at Hokkaido University, elaborated on that subject by explaining that, “They are pretty shy. One of my friends who lives in India shared with me that the best way to see these giant squirrels is to climb up on a tree, stay very quiet and wait for them to emerge from their nest.”
Even though these unique creatures are currently listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a species of “least concern,” meaning they’re not currently threatened by extinction, their populations is declining.
“The real threat is the slow loss and degradation of forested habitats as humans move in and as climate change impacts higher elevation areas,” said Koprowski, and added, “The good news is that they have a wide distribution and seem to tolerate human presence and even some modest level of low-density housing.”
“They’re part of a group of squirrels that is pretty ancient. They’re a unique evolutionary group that’s been here a long time, which is a good thing.”
Hopefully these beautiful and unique animals will be around for a long long time, because one thing is for sure, the world’s a more magical place with these squirrels in it.