With its chestnut bonce and flamboyant, technicolour body suit, this glam-rock rodent is certainly channelling its inner Ziggy Stardust. The aptly named ‘rainbow squirrel’, or Malabar giant squirrel, adds a welcome touch of pizzazz to the upper canopies of the forests in central and southern India.

Compared to the UK’s squirrels, they really are giant too. Adults weigh up to 2kg, the same as a small chihuahua, and grow up to a metre long, head to tail. They spend most of their lives off ground, leaping up to six metres between branches, and they cache their nuts and seeds in the trees, rather than on the ground.

A photo of a rainbow squirrel
The Indian giant squirrel, or Malabar giant squirrel, is a large tree squirrel species native to India © Alamy

The big question, of course, is why so bling? Surely, the squirrel’s outrageous attire must act as a beacon for predators, such as crested serpent eagles and jaguars? The answer is that no one really knows. It could be a form of camouflage. Much like military fatigues, which use pattern and contrasting colour swatches to help the wearer blur into the background, so too the squirrel’s contrasting colour blocks may help it to ‘disappear’ against the dappled mosaic of the forest canopy.

Or maybe the getup helps the squirrel to attract a mate… by giving it the sex appeal of a rock god!

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Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.