The Malabar giant squirrel is one of those animals that seem simply too marvelous to be real.
Did someone paint a poor squirrel in their backyard in an effort to dupe the Internet into believing in a new species?
These amazing creatures live among us – or, more accurately, deep in the forests of India.
The large South Asian tree squirrels are much larger than your average yard squirrel. Adults are about 14 inches long and their tails can add an extra 2 feet to their length! And they weigh between 4-5 pounds – about 4 times as much as the squirrels most of us see outside our windows.
While the squirrels’ population is declining, they aren’t yet an endangered species.
These unique and beautiful creatures are making the rounds on the Internet, going viral over a year after the best photos were taken by amateur wildlife photographer Kaushik Vijayan back in 2017.
Vijayan, whose day job is in finance, was on vacation in Pathanamthitta in Kerala, India when he encountered the squirrels with his new DLSR camera.
And he never expected the squirrels to be such a hit years later.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” he told Indian newspaper The Hindu. “I put it up on Instagram, and it was picked up by a news agency in the UK.”
Vijayan’s Instagram account – @kaushik_photographs – now has over 20k followers and is full of other beautiful wildlife shots. He clearly has an eye for capturing beautiful colors in the natural world.
But when he encountered the Malabar species – also known as the Indian giant squirrel – he knew he was seeing something special.
“I felt so amazed by how drop-dead gorgeous it looked,” he told CBS News. “It was indeed a jaw-dropping sight to behold.”
If you do encounter one, make sure to watch for its unique behavior. These squirrels are normally only spotted in trees because that’s where they store their nuts.
Even quirkier than their behavior is their coloring. The squirrels often appear purple in the bright light – not a color often found on animals!
One might wonder how the species’ unique coloring helps it hide from predators in the wild. Typically, prey animals tend to have some camouflage that matches their surroundings in order to keep them from being spotted and scooped up for a meal.
There’s no consensus on how this works for the Malabar squirrel, though it’s been noted that the leafy forests with both sunny and shady spots might help them blend in.
There’s some disagreement among squirrel experts as to whether the animals are really as vibrant as they appear in some of the photos.
“This is exactly how they look. Brilliant!” said biologist John Koprowski told National Geographic. It’s “as close to purple as one gets in a mammal.”
But evolutionary biologist Dana Krempels said they seemed to have their colors enhanced:“It’s very possible that someone took a bit of Photoshop license to these pics. There’s a setting called ‘vibrance’ that enhances color intensity. That’s what it looks like to me.”
If the experts disagree, I suppose one has to travel to India to see for themselves whether or not these squirrels are as colorful and majestic as they appear on screen!
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