Squirrel expert John Koprowski can’t believed his eyes when he first discovered a Malabar giant squirrel aka Indian giant squirrel, in India back in 2006. He thought the animal looked too big for a squirrel.
Although it appears very different from the usual squirrels from North America, this big creature is indeed a squirrel. Malabar giant squirrels are twice the size of an eastern grey squirrel. The adult head and body length varies at approximately 14 inches and the tail is around 2 ft.
“These are giants!” Koprowski, a professor and associate director at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, tells The Dodo.
It’s not only the size that’s impressive but the color of its fur is unique! It can be maroon and purple as well as orange, brown and black. The maroon and purple shades are not typical in mammals, according to Koprowski. But this remarkable shade actually helps the giant squirrels survive in the wild.
“In the shaded understory of a dense forest, the patchy colors and dark hues are a great adaptation to avoiding detection,” Koprowski explained. “But when you see these in the sunlight, they show their ‘true colors’ and beautiful pelage [fur].”
They live primarily in the forest canopy, jumping from tree to tree to find food, barely touching the ground. Too see these squirrels, you have to travel to the eastern or southern parts of India and trek into the forest, but most of the time, it’s difficult to spot them.
“They are pretty shy,” Pizza Ka Yee Chow, squirrel expert at Hokkaido University, told The Dodo. “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].”