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Meet the Vampire Squirrel, Among the Fluffiest of all Animals

posted: 09/03/15
by: Jennifer Viegas for Discovery News
Vampire Squirrel
HOSCAP BORNEO

The first known video of the mysterious "vampire squirrel" was recently acquired by scientists working in Indonesia, according to a new Science report.

The elusive squirrel, Rheithrosciurus macrotis, is famous both for the vampire-inspired legends surrounding it and for its tail, which last year was hailed as being the fluffiest among all mammals.

Andrew Marshall, a conservation biologist at the University of Michigan, and his colleagues set up 35 motion-triggered video cameras throughout Gunung Palung National Park in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. The vampire squirrel, also known as the Bornean tufted ground squirrel, is known to live in the park.

"I was sitting at the bar in Jakarta waiting to come home, looking through the pictures, and this (the video) popped up," Marshall told Science reporter Erik Stokstad.

The video, shot in infrared and not in color because of low light conditions, shows the squirrel foraging through leaves for coveted nuts of the canarium tree. The nuts are so hard that the scientists have no idea how the little, fluffy-tailed squirrel manages to gnaw through them.

The squirrel's pointy, bat-like ears and mysterious ways probably led to the vampire-like legends surrounding it. Local folklore holds that the 14-inch-long squirrel attacks forest deer and drinks their blood. That has never been substantiated.

The squirrel's tail, however, is the real deal. It likely evolved to become so large and fluffy in order to make the diminutive squirrel look much larger than it actually is to fend off predators and to attract suitors. Sunda clouded leopards, other big cats, and various additional carnivores prey on the squirrel.

Marshall, staff at the park, and researchers from Victoria University of Wellington hope to capture more footage of the squirrel, which could reveal how it manages to eat the super hard nuts. Additional video might also show its mating behaviors, what its favorite habitat is, and if there's anything vampire-like about the squirrel's activities.

"I would be very surprised if it (the vampire legend) were true," Marshall said.

This post originally appeared on Discovery News

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