There’s a species of squirrel so large and colorful that they look like something out of a fairytale.
The Malabar giant squirrel can grow up to 36 inches long. John Koprowski is a professor and associate director at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, and a squirrel expert. When he visited India in 2006 and first saw the creatures, he thought they looked more like primates than squirrels.
“These are giants!” Koprowski told The Dodo.
Malabar giant squirrels aren’t just known for their size, however; their fur coats are incredibly eye-catching as well. They can be a medley of blacks, oranges, and browns, or even have splashes of vibrant purple and maroon.
Their stunning coats are beautiful to look at, but also offer some protection.
“In the shaded understory of a dense forest, the patchy colors and dark hues are a great adaptation to avoiding detection,” Koprowski said. “But when you see these in the sunlight, they show their ‘true colors’ and beautiful pelage [fur].”
Spotting the giant squirrels isn’t a common occurrence. They spend most of their time in the uppermost branches of forests in eastern and southern India.
Pizza Ka Yee Chow is a squirrel expert and research fellow at Hokkaido University. “They are pretty shy,” he 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].”
According to Wikipedia, their “diet includes fruit, flowers, nuts and tree bark. Some subspecies are omnivorous, also eating insects and bird eggs.”
The unique squirrels aren’t in danger of extinction, though — they’re just elusive. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Malabar giant squirrel under “least concern.”
But they do need protection.
“The real threat is the slow loss and degradation of forested habitats as humans move in and as climate change impacts higher elevation areas,” Koprowski said. “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,” Koprowski added. “They’re a unique evolutionary group that’s been here a long time, which is a good thing.”
They really are stunning, aren’t they?
This story originally appeared at Goodfullness.