Tales of the killer vampire squirrels of Borneo have been passed on from generation to generation for eons – how it hides in trees and leaps onto the back of passing Muntjac deer, sinking its fangs into their necks, sucking their blood and feasting on the dead animal’s entrails. Yet the elusive, blood-thirsty rodent has never been seen … until now. Brave researchers set up infrared cameras in the Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia and, for the first time ever, captured video of the creature. Is it huge? Is it terrifying? Is it movie material?
That depends. The video shows that the vampire squirrel is actually a rare species known as the Rheithrosciurus macrotis, or by its less-menacing English name – the tufted ground squirrel. Conservation scientist Erik Meijaard revealed squirrel’s secret identity in the journal Taprobanica. While it doesn’t have blood-sucking fangs, the squirrels do have powerful jaws capable of breaking open the hard shells of what the actually eat – the seeds of the cheeseweed or Malva parviflora.
The other thing the squirrel has is a massive tail. The tail is 130 percent of the mass of the rest of the squirrel’s body, giving it the world record for mammalian tail-to-body ratio. That may be where the myth of its deer-killing powers comes from. The tail makes the squirrel appear larger than it actually is to scare off its natural enemy, the Sunda clouded leopard. The tail can also act as a decoy – tricking the leopard into attacking it rather than the squirrel. Fortunately for the squirrels, these leopards aren’t too bright.
The infrared videos did not show rodents formerly known as vampire squirrels killing deer and drinking their blood. Nor was there any evidence they attack chickens and eat just their internal organs. It sounds like the stories came from their reputations as vicious fighters and biters.
Is the vampire squirrel/tufted ground squirrel movie worthy? Well, they are kind of cute and fluffy. Maybe Disney will be interested.