Perusing the pages of Snopes.com will undoubtedly reveal a number of articles debunking photographs and videos that purport to show some sort of mythical creature, such as the “Marbled Fuark,” dragons, furry albino tarantulas, and Godzilla-sized tortoises. But every now and then we field questions about photographs of real animals so strange-looking that netizens have a hard time believing they are genuine.
In April 2019, for exampled, we started receiving queries about a series of images supposedly showing an animal called the Malabar giant squirrel taken by photographer Kaushik Vijayan:
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
The Malabar giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) is indeed a real creature, a large tree squirrel species native to India.
These squirrels, also known as Indian giant squirrels, can grow to more than 4 pounds in size and 3 feet (including the tail) in length. These colorful, omnivorous animals spend most of their time in the trees of South Asia, feeding on everything from insects to flowers to nuts:
Ratufa indica has dorsal coloration that varies from deep red to brown, the ventral fur is white. They have short, round ears, a broadened hand with an expanded inner paw for gripping, and large, powerful claws used for gripping tree bark and branches. Females can be distinguished from males by their three sets of mammae. Total body length varies from 254 to 457 mm and tail length is approximately the same as body length. These squirrels weigh approximately 1.5 to 2 kg …
Giant squirrels are typically solitary animals, being seen only rarely in pairs during the breeding season. They are wary animals and usually keep well hidden in vegetation. They are most active during the day. Giant squirrels have small home ranges …
Giant squirrels spend most of their time in trees, where they gather their food. Giant squirrels are omnivorous, feeding on fruits, flowers, nuts, bark, bird eggs, and insects. They feed by standing on the hind legs and using their hands to handle food. Giant squirrels also use their large tail as a counter-weight, improving their balance.
The Malabar giant squirrel isn’t the only real-world animal that is occasionally viewed through a skeptical lens. In May 2018, we published an article assuring readers that the shoebill stork does in fact exist.