Mysterious 'vampire squirrel' captured on camera (video)

vampire squirrel
Video screen capture YouTube

Researchers have finally captured rare footage of the crazy Bornean tufted ground squirrel.

To anyone unnerved by the skittish and fearless intensity of city squirrels will likely cringe at the legends behind Rheithrosciurus macrotis, known to some as the Bornean tufted ground squirrel, known to others as the vampire squirrel.

Local legend has it that the elusive beast – the Big Foot of squirrels – lurks in the jungles of Borneo where it attacks unsuspecting deer, ripping them apart and feasting upon their organs and blood. Adding to the fantastic nature of the scene is the squirrel’s curious claim to fame: It has the fluffiest tail of all mammals. The spectacularly poofy tail is said to be some 30 percent larger than its body volume, or about 130 percent of its body mass. R. macrotis puts the “aw” in “gnaw.”

“Dayak hunters sometimes find these disemboweled deer in the forest, none of the flesh eaten, which to them is a clear sign of a squirrel kill,” according to a 2014 study on "tall tales" published in Taprobanica, a journal dedicated to Asian biodiversity. “In villages close to the forest edge there were also accounts of the squirrel killing domestic chickens and eating the heart and liver only.”

Vampire squirrelWikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0But as Smithsonian.com notes, if it seems an unlikely scenario, it’s because it is likely an urban legend. (Or maybe more accurately, a jungle legend?)

All accounts of the squirrel’s Dracula antics have come from local lore; they have never been observed by the scientists who study the animal or its environs. Rather than ruminant blood and guts, R. macrotis seems to favor canarium nuts. However, the squirrels are elusive and have managed to evade cameras; most of its basic biology is unknown.

But now we have the cutie on film thanks to researchers studying the ecology of Gunung Palung National Park in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan. They set up 35 motion-triggered video cameras throughout the reserve and lo and behold, one of the cryptic critters crept into view.

“I was sitting at the bar in Jakarta waiting to come home, looking through the pictures, and this popped up,” says Andrew Marshall, a conservation biologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who works with the park staff.

The cameras switch to infrared in low light – which is what gives the clip below its eerie monochromatic glow – but the squirrel is as clear as day. The team is hoping for more footage with which they may learn more about its’ habitat preferences and mating behavior. More video may even show the animal reveling in a bloodthirsty frenzy, but Marshall says it’s unlikely, “I would be very surprised if it were true.”

In the meantime, behold that glorious tail.

Tags: Animals | Photography

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