It was amateur photographer Kaushik Vijayan's Instagram post that brought about a renenewed burst of attention to the Malabar Giant Squirrel.
As fantastical as it may seem, brightly colored adorable squirrels exist. Although these 3 foot long cuties might appear to be photoshopped mythical creatures, there are very much real. According to National Geographic, these colorful four-pound critters roam in the forests of southern India. Although they have existed for a long time, it was amateur photographer Kaushik Vijayan's Instagram posts that brought about a renewed burst of attention. Thus, these majestic orange-, purple and maroon-colored animals can not only be found in the southern forest of India but also in Vijayan's vibrant Instagram feed.
Vijayan was on a trip to the forests when he spotted these massive, maroon-colored rodents running around on the trees. Stunned by their unique appearance, he photographed them in the Pathanamthitta District of Kerala and later uploaded the pictures on social media. However, people had a hard time believing that these animals actually exist, especially due to their vibrant splotches of cream, black, and burnt fuchsia. As unbelievable as these rodents may seem, they are the real deal. This particular species is one of four rodents in the squirrel family that is relatively hefty. They are officially known as the Malabar giant squirrel or Ratufa indica.
Incredible #pictures of giant multi-coloured squirrels set #social media alight!#Photographer Kaushik Vijayan snapped the animals in their native habit. The Malabar Giant #squirrel - double the size of their grey relatives - live deep in the #forests of #India. pic.twitter.com/BLFRZf6VHy— SWNS.com (@SWNS) April 2, 2019
"This is exactly how they look. Brilliant!" shared wildlife conservation biologist at the University of Arizona and co-author of the book Squirrels of the World, John Koprowski. According to The Independent, this particular species is double the size of their standard gray relative and can grow up to three feet tall from head to toe. They can even jump up to 20 feet in between trees. "The four species that make up this group are fascinating in their large size, brilliant coloration, and penchant for feeding on some of the massive tropical fruits in the tree canopy," explained Koprowski.
Now, the three other rodent relatives are only a match to the Malabar squirrel in terms of mass as they have relatively lesser technicolor coats. Take the pale giant squirrel a.k.a Ratufa affinis for example. They are generally brown or tan in color and are found mainly in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The Ratufa bicolor or black giant squirrel is also found in these places as well as in China and is mostly black or white. Finally, the Sri Lankan giant squirrel or the Ratufa macroura is mainly found on the island and southern parts of India. They come in many shades of black and gray.
"All four species are believed to be declining, although [they are] still common enough to be frequently spotted by people," explained Koprowski. Speaking about the Malabar giant squirrels, he added that these creatures are "as close to purple as one gets in a mammal." That being said, biologist Dana Krempels voiced her suspicions saying that some of the really bright posts on Instagram may have been enhanced using filters. "It's very possible that someone took a bit of Photoshop license to these pics," expressed the senior lecturer at the University of Miami. "There's a setting called 'vibrance' that enhances color intensity. That's what it looks like to me."
But the pictures were simply breathtaking and Vijayam too was left stunned when he saw them. "I felt so amazed by how drop-dead gorgeous it looked," he told CBS News. "It was indeed a jaw-dropping sight to behold." Their unique coat makes people wonder why evolution chose such vibrant colors that would easily draw the attention of predators. Koprowski says that their purple pattern actually plays some kind of role in camouflage as they are suited for the broadleaf forests which creates a "mosaic of sun flecks and dark, shaded areas," which are similar to that of the rodent's marking.