Meet India's Beautiful Technicolor Squirrels

This colorful and large squirrel species is known as Ratufa indica.

These squirrels of India are known for their colorful fur. (Photo: Manu M Nair/Shutterstock)

We're used to squirrels that are gray, black, coppery red, or maybe even white. And they're always relatively small, even if we occasionally come across a squirrel that has had a few too many acorns.

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. Read on to discover more fascinating facts about this magnificent and unique animal.

Indian giant squirrels live up to their name. (Photo: VinodBhattu/Wikimedia Commons)

1. Ratufa Indica Are Massive

These squirrels, native to India, sport a colorful patchwork of fur, with colors ranging from beige and tan to shades of brown and rust, even purple. 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.

Indian giant squirrels stick close to the treetops. (Photo: P.V.S.Sarma/Wikimedia Commons)

2. They Sport Camouflaged Fur

These squirrels prefer the tops of trees to the ground, foraging for nuts, fruits, and flowers far from the ground for safety. Birds of prey would 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]."

3. They Disperse Seeds

Like busy little pollinators, these squirrels play an important role in the environment by dispersing seeds in their feces. Like other mammals, they may eat a piece of food in one location and move to another to defecate, thus spreading seeds with an extra bit of fertilizer added into the mix.

Indian giant squirrels are relatively solitary creatures. (Photo: N.A.Nazeer/Wikimedia Commons)

4. They Are Solitary

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.

5. They Are Not Endangered

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."

Indian giant squirrels split from other squirrels at least 30 million years ago. (Photo: PREJU SURESH/Shutterstock)

6. They Love Being in Trees

You won't see these squirrels foraging around on the ground. In fact, they rarely leave the tree canopies that they inhabit, which makes them technically an arboreal species. They shelter within holes in trees or build eagle-sized nests and can leap as much as 20 feet (6 meters) between trees. They're mostly found in moist tropical forests.

7. They Are Omnivorous

Ratufa indica eat everything from fruit, flowers, seeds, grains, nuts, and bark, to bird eggs and insects. They stand on their hind legs to munch, freeing up their hands to handle the food.

8. You're Lucky If You Spot One

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!