Giant black squirrels one of the longest animals
Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
SQUIRRELS ARE PRETTY adorable and all, but they’re so small and zippy, you couldn’t pin one down for a cuddle if you tried. But what about a giant squirrel…?
The black giant squirrel (Ratufa bicolour) is one of the largest species of squirrel in the world. Not only is its head-to-body length a whopping 35-50cm, but its tail is another 50-60cm on top of that. That’s a very long animal! These things are so big, they can weigh more than 1.5kg.
You can find these lovely black and cream squirrels in forests throughout South-East Asia, from India down to Indonesia, including in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos.
While they can’t glide as well as their flying squirrel relatives, black giant squirrels are capable of jumping distances of up to 6m at a time. This helps them to very quickly bound up and down the entire lengths of trees – down to feed on seeds, pine cones and fruits, up to tend to their very round canopy nests.
Once these canopy nests are filled with babies, the father squirrel will be promptly pushed out by the mother. Black giant squirrels show very little interest in living in couples or even family groups once the babies grow old enough to leave the nest.
Males and females will only ever come together for mating, which has very rarely been seen in the wild. But in captivity, it involves a lot of chasing. Unfortunately for the females, they’ll often run and hide from a dominant (and therefore stronger and more virile) male, only to see this plan backfire when a less dominant (which means weaker and weedier) male slip in, corners, and mates with her instead. Well played, weedy males, well played.
Squirrels in Australia
As for Australia, we shouldn’t have any squirrels here because they’re competition for our native possums, but over a century ago, two species were deliberately introduced. Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), which are the ones you’ll find in New York’s Central Park, were introduced to Melbourne in 1880, and then again to Ballarat in 1937. The species has since then gone extinct. Indian palm squirrels (Funambulus palmarum), on the other hand, were introduced to Perth in 1898, and have persisted ever since.
Along with the northern palm squirrel (Funambulus pennantii) – some of which escaped from a Perth Zoo that same year – Indian palm squirrels have made quite a nuisance of themselves in Australia. They’re perfectly suited to their environment in Perth, and with few natural predators, have set themselves to decimating local citrus and stone fruit trees, ornamental gardens and electrical wiring across the roofs of people’s houses.
And then in 2010, it was reported that they were being sold in pet shops across New South Wales for over $1,000 each, and there’s a real risk that they’ll make their way into Queensland at some point.