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All Creatures,

Episode 117: Nuts about the Indian Giant Squirrel

September 17, 2019

The Indian Giant Squirrel is not only one of the largest squirrels on Earth, they are also one of the most colorful mammals in existence. In truth, squirrels are quite fascinating and are critical components for a healthy ecosystem. This week we dive into the world of these incredible rodents and hope to give you a new appreciation for our furry neighbors.

Indian Giant Squirrel History

Delving into the world of rodents is always an eye opener. For example, 42% of all species of mammals are rodents. Currently, there are approximately 2,277 species of rodents throughout the planet and on every continent, except Antarctica. Within this, there are about 285 species of squirrels.

Rodents are one of the world’s oldest classification of mammals. The very first mammal that emerged about 195 million years ago (MYA), looked like a small rodent, and even a small squirrel. Rodents did not truly evolve until 70 MYA. Scientists believe rodents have been as successful as they are due to their small size, quick breeding interval, eat a wide variety of foods, and survive in almost any kind of environment.

Squirrels specifically did not evolve until about 36 MYA. The first fossil evidence of a squirrel is in the western United States. They then migrated across into Asia and made their first appearance in Europe 30 MYA, Africa 20 MYA, Australia 6 MYA and then finally South America 3 MYA.

The Indian Giant Squirrel scientific name is Ratufa indica and is one of four species of Oriental Giant Squirrels. They are native to the Indian peninsula and this group evolved roughly 11 MYA, though we do not have many specifics today.

Indian Giant Squirrel Physiology

While not the very largest squirrel, the India Giant Squirrel is just a tad shorter. Their bodies can be as long as 16 in (40 cm) with tails as long as 24 in (60 cm). They weigh about 4.5 lbs. (2 kg). Only the Giant Black Squirrel is a few inches longer, but weights the same.

Some interesting facts:

  • Live about 20 years
  • Can run up to 20 mph (32 kph)
  • Can leap from tree branch to branch as far as 20 feet (6 m) away
  • Teeth constantly grow, as it wears on chewing and breaking nuts, or chewing on tree bark
  • Male squirrel is a buck, female a doe, baby a kit or pup
  • Group of squirrels is called a dray or scury
  • Good wide angle vision with good ability to focus, can see a variety of colors but not as acute as us
  • Have excellent hearing range
  • Diets include berries, flowers, tree bark; Indian Giant Squirrel (and others) can be omnivorous and eat small birds, reptiles and insects

One of the most important roles of squirrels in the environment is their behavior of caching nuts and seeds in the ground. While the Indian Giant Squirrel caches his nuts in trees, most other squirrels will bury them in the ground for later retrieval during the winter. However, over time the squirrel may forget where they buried all their seeds and nuts. This allows those nuts and seeds to germinate and produce new plants or trees. Thus, squirrels play a vital role in keeping a healthy ecosystem.

Indian Giant Squirrel Conservation

Least Concern with this species but they are losing their habitat to human encroachment. Overall, their numbers are decreasing and worth keeping an eye on.

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