YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
We’re willing to wager that there’s a good chance you’ve seen a squirrel before.
But we bet you haven’t seen a squirrel like this!
This week, we’re headed to India to look at the biggest squirrel you’ve ever seen.
Let’s head to the treetops to meet the Malabar Giant Squirrel!
Native to the peninsular regions of India, the Malabar Squirrel—also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel—spends its life in the treetopsof India’s humid, tropical forests.
They can behard to miss as they leap more than 20 feet from tree to tree in search of food.
One of the first things you’re likely to notice is their size.
As their name suggests, these squirrels aren’t like the ones you’ve likely seen in your backyard or at the park.
Malabar squirrels can weigh as much as 2kg and reach lengths of 45cm or more.
And that doesn’t include their big bushy tails which can be up to two feet long all on their own!
If the size of this squirrel didn’t immediately grab your attention, its colouring likely will.
Instead of the red, brown, grey, or black you might find in North America or Europe, these humongous squirrels are a rainbow of all of these colours.
Their underbelly and face are often a lighter colour (such as tan or white) while their back, legs, ears, and tail are a mix of reds, browns, blacks, and—in the right lighting—even purple!
Indian giant squirrels are typicallydiurnal—meaning they forage for food in the early morning and evening, and lounge around the treetops during the hottest parts of the day.
Their favourite foods include fruits, flowers, nuts, bark, bird eggs, and bugs!
By nightfall, they tuck themselves intotheir nests and sleep for the night.
Their nests areelaborately constructed, globe-like structures made of twigs and leaves, making them just as unique as the squirrels themselves!
Each squirrel will build and maintain multiple nests (sometimes as many as 5) to give them easy access to shelter when travelling across their large territories.
However, only one of these nests will be used to raise their young.
Confusingly, baby Malabar squirrels can be called pups, kits, or kittens.
They’re typically born in groups—called a dray or scurry—of 1 to 3 kittens.
Within six months,the young will be mostly independent and start to establish their own territories.
They’re not particularly social, so once they’re grown, they’ll spend most of their time alone.
Their populations are healthy, and they are widespread throughout their homeland forests. However, they’re pretty shy, so catching a peek of one in person could be tricky!
Because of their size and love of eating fruits and plants, Malabar squirrels are essential to spreading seeds throughout India’s tropical forests.
Indian giant squirrels have an amusing defence mechanism. Instead of running or jumping away, they’ll flatten themselves against a branch and lie still until the danger passes.
Despite their size, these squirrels can reach speeds of 20mph as they bound through the treetops using the strength of their rear legs to propel themselvesand their long, bushy tail to maintain balance.
Indian giant squirrels who live near cities and villages are known to make friends with locals, and will return daily if they are treated to seeds, fruits, and other snacks!
Witness the Indian Giant Squirrel in the wild in this short documentary by Ajith Padiyar.