We're used to squirrels that are gray or a coppery red and relatively small. Sure, we may come across a squirrel that has had a few too many acorns, but that's about it.
This isn't the case in India, however. The country is home to a very colorful and large squirrel species, Ratufa indica, otherwise known as the Indian giant squirrel or the Malabar giant squirrel.
Just take a look!
That's some tail!
These squirrels, native to India, sport a colorful patchwork of fur, with colors ranging from beige and tan to shades of brown and rust. The squirrels' bodies can grow up to 14 inches (36 centimeters) or so, while their tails can stretch on for 2 feet That's more than 3 feet of squirrel! By comparison, your run-of-the-mill gray squirrel typically grows to about 22 inches, including the tail.
And body length isn't the only thing that sets these squirrels apart. They can weigh up to 5 pounds (2.2 kilograms), or about the average weight of a Chihuahua. Gray squirrels only weigh in at 1.5 pounds, at most.
These squirrels prefer the tops of trees to the ground, foraging for nuts, fruits and flowers far from the ground for safety.
However, birds of prey have an easier time catching the squirrels ... if it weren't for that colorful fur. Researchers believe their coat helps them to better blend into the canopy, affording them some protection from predators.
"In the shaded understory of a dense forest, the patchy colors and dark hues are a great adaptation to avoiding detection," John Koprowski, professor and associate director at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, told The Dodo. "But when you see these in the sunlight, they show their 'true colors' and beautiful pelage [fur]."
The squirrels play an important part in the environment by dispersing seeds in their poo.
These squirrels may have a butterfly's colors, but they're not social butterflies. They're rarely seen in pairs, and then only during breeding activities. We don't know much about their breeding habits, either. Breeding may occur throughout the year, or at least several times a year, and litter sizes are typically small, with only one to two infants.
Don't let those small birth numbers worry you, though. The squirrels are classified as a species of "least concern" by the IUCN, though habitat loss is a problem.
“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."
These colorful squirrels likely took root around 30 to 35 million years ago, following a diversification in squirrel species.
Still, you can only find them in India, and they are shy, wary creatures. This makes them difficult to see, even for seasoned squirrel seekers.
"They are pretty shy," Pizza Ka Yee Chow, squirrel expert and research fellow 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]."
Hopefully they'll get hungry while you're up there so you'll catch a glimpse!