Finally, a feel-good story involving an animal you’ve likely never heard of. Seriously — get ready to fall head-over-heels with the rare and eye-catching Malabar giant squirrel. Why these creatures aren’t featured in every zoo and children’s book is beyond us. They’re unusual, beautiful, and bursting with cool traits. Watch out, marsupials: these stunning Malabar giant squirrels might make you jealous.
While searching the mountain jungles of India, researcher John Koproski spotted strange creatures in the trees. At first, he thought they were primates, due to their large size. With bodies up to two feet long, it’s no wonder he was confused!
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We know what you’re thinking: Did a hipster put hair dye on their pet squirrel? Fortunately, these colors are all-natural! With more shades than an E. L. James novel, how did these guys ever manage to go unnoticed?
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Malabar giant squirrels can only be found in the deep mountain forests of India. Even if you manage to stumble upon their home, spotting them can be tough. That’s good and bad news, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
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The IUCN lists Malabar giant squirrels as a “species of least concern.” While extinction may be avoidable, their numbers continue to dwindle with the loss of forests over time. Don’t worry — there’s plenty of good news to make up for the bad!
via Critter Facts
Malabar giant squirrels “have a wide distribution and seem to tolerate human presence and even some modest level of low-density housing,” Koprowski told The Dodo. Basically, they’re not going anywhere. After all, the species is estimated to be hundreds of years old!
Getty / Copyright Anuj Nair
Unlike other squirrels, Malabar giant squirrels have impressively long tails — sometimes even longer than their bodies! These tails keep the giants balanced on high branches. When not in use, they swirl up like twisty straws. But the most impressive feature of these little beasts is their remarkable color palette!
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Malabar giant squirrels look like they were customized by kids at a Build-a-Bear. The four subspecies, whose names each sound like a spell out of Harry Potter, can be a vast variety of colors, including black, brown, orange, beige, maroon, and purple.
R. i. centralis lives in central/east India and are the smallest of the bunch. Spot them by their black spots and black tails with white tips running around in the mountains of India. There’s plenty of these guys, but the other subspecies aren’t as fortunate.
R. i. dealbata were said to live in the southern Ghats mountain range. However, researchers assume they’re now extinct. These critters were creme-colored with brown ears and often mistaken for albino squirrels. Fortunately, other subspecies are plentiful!
R. i. maxima are found all over the southwestern Ghats. They’re medium-sized with completely black tails, and they tend to have black stripes running along their backs. However, the final subspecies is definitely the most photogenic of all.
The huge R. i. indica are found in the northeastern Ghats. More varied, they tend to sport maroon and purple colors (plus the fluffiest ears you’ve ever seen). Since purple is such a rare color among mammals, these critters look like they were dipped in Kool Aid!
Mammals don’t have the melanin in their skin to create cool colors like purple, blue, or green. However, they can make red and orange without a problem (hello, redheads!). The answer to the Malabar giant squirrel’s maroon appearance likely stems from something in their diet. Speaking of diet…
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How do Malabar giant squirrels match up with the ground squirrels at your local park? Do they eat giant nuts? Or hide their food under the forest floor? Well, despite what their luxurious appearances may suggest, these critters are still pretty squirrely.
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Just like their western counterparts, Malabar giant squirrels snack on nuts. They also enjoy seeds, fruits, flowers, tree bark — even insects and eggs! But really, the same can be said for squirrels across the globe.
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The giant squirrels of India don’t cope well with seasonal changes, so digging and storing food in the ground isn’t their thing. Instead, they stock food in the trees. Different seasons bring new fruits, nuts, and other local delicacies, and also, new threats.
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Malabar giant squirrels face a long list of predators, including: owls, leopards, raptors, and tree snakes, and more. To find their prey, fearsome hunters must scale the tallest trees in the Ghat mountains. But giant squirrels don’t go down easy!
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When predators are hot on their super-long tails, Malabar giant squirrels flatten themselves against tree trunks instead of running away, as their colors are easy to spot. If they need to make a quick escape, they can jump — up to an impressive 20 feet!
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Malabar giant squirrels tend to live in packs of 1-2. To stay safe, they build their nests on thin branches to keep large, heavy predators away. But considering how quickly their bright colors get them into trouble, there must be some benefit to looking like a Pokemon…right?
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The exotic colors of the diurnal Malabar giant squirrel camouflage them in the mountains of India. “Diurnal” means they’re most active during the day, which is why their coats are so bright. While their vibrant coats set them apart, their strangest feature might be their appearance as babies.
Wiki Commons / N.A.Nazeer
Tada — a baby giant squirrel! That’s right — that’s just a baby. This is one of the few visual records we have of these little guys, because, like most other exotic animals, they spend most of their lives out of sight.
Youtube / CP Wild Lanka
Nabbing photos of the rarest animals on earth is quite a lofty challenge, and honestly some of the more common animals can be difficult to capture on camera. Luckily, some have managed to document the early stages of life of some of the most elusive and adorable critters.
Skunks are infamous for using their scent glands to kick up a literal stink. Poor Pepé Le Pew! But if Pepé had fathered some skunk babies, the fluffy kits would be adorable. Maybe they could keep their stink in check, though; kits have spray control at about three months old.
Reddit / Alabaster_Sugarfoot
The Aardvark is normally a solitary nocturnal creature that burrows around Africa, south of the Sahara. But this isolation makes photographing cubs – which, with their termite-sucking snouts, resemble little pink vacuum cleaners – a real treasure. This cutie was pictured by Adam Lewis at Florida’s Bush Gardens in 2013.
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A white flamingo? Get the flock out of here! Flamingos get their red-pink coloration from the algae and plankton in their diets, so the chunky-legged chicks are actually born as white or gray fluff balls and don’t get their vibrant color until the first year or so of their lives.
It’s rare to see Emu chicks, since they’re usually guarded by their five-foot-tall aggressive fathers, but they’re so cuddly that it’s a tempting risk. Emus are flightless birds but very able runners; sweeties like these ones can roam and explore early in their lives – within mere days of hatching.
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With their large heads and huge eyes, octopus hatchlings look like anime mascots, which only adds to their adorability factor. Octopuses – yep, that’s the correct plural – have lots of babies, because survival rates are low in the ocean; perhaps that’s the reason hatchlings are rarely seen.
Flickr/NOAA Ocean Explorer
This ball of joy and happiness is a three-banded armadillo pup – one of only two species that can curl into a defensive ball. Yet although it looks good enough to eat, few predators have the chance; these little creatures’ soft baby shells mature into armor tough enough to deflect bullets.
Collectively one of only two mammals known to lay eggs, platypuses have lovable, squishy babies that some have taken to calling puggles – and although that’s technically incorrect, the name is adorable! The defenseless babies are only the size of beans when they hatch, but they learn to swim within four months.
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A gliding marsupial, similar to flying squirrels, the Australian sugar glider gives birth to tiny joeys – cuties as sweet as their namesake. These little guys have membranes connecting their front and hind legs that help them glide over long distances. If only they’d glide into our pockets so that we could take them home.
Baby sloths are among the most adorable young animals imaginable: they have huge puppy-dog eyes, big smiles and they’re hugging machines. The babies cling onto tree branches, their mother’s backs and anything else by nature; all they want is a nice big cuddle, and we’d love to oblige.
Adult porcupines may be prickly customers, but their baby porcupettes – aww – are so lovable with their huge round noses and long whiskers. They have soft quills for the first few days of their lives, but these start to harden into sharp spines within ten weeks – so get those cuddles in quick.
A tortoise may go through a mutant ninja phase when it’s in its teens, so lavish the tiny hatchling with attention while you can! Tortoise hatchlings are a rare find outside captive-bred programs.
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Who wouldn’t love those faces? Not just their mom! Parrots are famous for their beautifully-colored plumage, but like most birds the chicks are born featherless and blind. As they open their eyes, parrot babies imprint on whatever they see first as their parent.
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With their goofy teeth, furry little bodies and flappy tails, adorable beaver kits look like cartoon animals; all they need is hard hats. Beavers are well-developed when they’re born and can swim the same day; despite this, though, they’re family-oriented, sticking close to mom and dad’s side until they’re older. Aww.
Adult honey badgers can usually be found stealing honey from hives with no regard to getting stung, or munching on king cobras with only minor time-outs for venom-infused naps. Quick, give this kit a hug before it turns into a little killing machine!
Even with a name like “stingray,” it’s hard not to love something that looks like it’s smiling all the time. But this position is rarely seen, as rays usually lie mouth-down on the seafloor. Hence, coastal swimmers are more likely to scare baby stingrays than see them.
They look like cute tiny needles with eyes! Swordfish lay anywhere from one to 29 million eggs, but few of the larvae survive. The ones that do, though, will eat pretty much the same foods they will eat as adults, only the larval versions: fish, squid and other zooplankton.
Their association with vampires and nocturnal activities may give bats a bad reputation, but how can anyone be scared of these fuzzy little fellas? These orphaned bat pups were taken in and saved by Australia’s Tolga Bat Hospital – so can we expect them to become future masked crime fighters?
YouTube / Batzilla the Bat
Snakelets (now don’t get squeamish) are for boas, rattlesnakes and garter snakes, at least, birthed live – rather than hatched from eggs. And although a lot of people find snakes scary, it’s hard to be afraid of this little wriggler.
He may look like Super Mario, but this lovable chubby guy is actually an orphan walrus called Mitik, and he’s not Italian; he was rescued from Alaska. Walruses are social animals and don’t like to be alone, so Mitik now lives in the New York Aquarium with some new friends.
Alaska Sea Life Center via The New York Times
There’s a reason Disney’s Tangled had chameleon Pascal as one of its animal mascots: these lizards are tiny bundles of joy! And not only does their small size make them hard to spot, but they’re also experts in camouflage. Plus, chameleon babies have to be self-reliant; yes, not many young ones survive to adulthood.
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Hyenas moms have it all – working the dangerous predator job and taking shifts with other hyena moms to raise their cubs together in a large den. And while hyena dads come to visit daily, intruders are not welcome.
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Hedgehog reproduction may be a prickly subject, but just look at the result – and as if they needed to be even more heart-warming, the babies are called hoglets. They become independent only ten days after birth but still need cuddles to stay warm in winter! Ouch.