Binomial Name: Ratufa indica
This is no ordinary squirrel. This is the Malabar Giant Squirrel. The wary, shy and secretive, gentle giant – giant at least by the squirrel standards 🙂 – is endemic to India. Also known as the Indian Giant Squirrel, this large, arboreal and herbivorous squirrel is a resident of the deciduous, mixed deciduous and evergreen forests of peninsular India. It is the state animal of Maharashtra (India), locally called “Shekru”.
It is very very easily distinguishable from its smaller relatives, having a conspicuous two-toned or three-toned color scheme ranging somewhere between brown, dark brown, rust, tan, buff, beige, etc. This gorgeous creature is up to16 inches long and add to that the tail, which can go even up to 2 feet, makes one WHOPPER of a squirrel, weighing four plus pounds.
Like its other cousins, it is diurnal which means it is active during the day and sleeps at night and it is arboreal which means it lives in the trees. The Malabar Giant squirrel dwells in the upper canopy and rarely ever leaves the trees. The nests are large (obviously 😉 ) and made up of twigs and leaves amongst profusely branched trees. It builds the nests on the thinner branches as high up as it is possible to support their weight. Reason – Large predators can’t get to them as the thinner branches would not support the weight of a larger predator!!! These nests become easily visible only during the dry season. It also appears that this one is a stickler for its privacy 😀 . It does not share a room with its kids 😉 . A single individual may build several nests in a small area of the forest out of which one may be used as sleeping quarters and the other as a nursery.
We came across these two nests, probably of the same individual, within a distance of less than 100 m of one another.
The Malabar Giant Squirrel is a loner. It can be seen with a mate only during the breeding season.
It is known to be predated upon by birds of prey and monkeys are known to damage the nests. When it senses danger, it freezes and flattens itself against the tree trunks. This is a little strange considering it can jump up to 20 feet. Perhaps when it freezes up, it is simply trying to blend in with the surroundings to avoid predation. Indeed, it is a shy, wary animal not easy to discover.
This omnivorous squirrel feasts on fruits, flowers, nuts, bark, bird eggs and insects. It plays a major role in seed dispersal thus rejuvenating the forest. Habitat loss due to agricultural expansion and over hunting are the major threats to these beauties.
– Until the next post…Ciao friends!!!