This week, these photos taken by photographer Kaushik Vijayan went viral — and while they might look Photoshopped, they’re actually very real.
The strange, rainbow-colored creatures featured in the photos are called Malabar giant squirrels, and they’re no April Fools joke.
Malabar giant squirrels are native to India, and look very, very different than the squirrels we’re used to seeing around North America. Their fur comes in shades of black, brown, orange, maroon and purple, which is not a combination we’re used to encountering on an animal.
“In the shaded understory of a dense forest, the patchy colors and dark hues are a great adaptation to avoiding detection,” John Koprowski, squirrel expert and professor and associate director at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, told The Dodo. “But when you see these in the sunlight, they show their ‘true colors’ and beautiful pelage [fur].”
In addition to their unusual coloring, Malabar giant squirrels are twice the size of an average eastern gray squirrel, and span about 36 inches long from head to tail. These animals definitely have a presence about them, which is why you would think it would be easy to spot them — but sightings of Malabar giant squirrels are actually quite rare. They dwell deep within the forests of India, rarely come down from the trees they call home and aren’t huge fans of being watched.
“They are pretty shy,” Pizza Ka Yee Chow, squirrel expert and research fellow at Hokkaido University in Japan, told The Dodo. “One of my friends who lives in India shared with me that the best way to see these giant squirrels is to climb up on a tree, stay very quiet and wait for them to emerge from their [nest].”
With these creatures being so hard to spot, it’s definitely impressive that Vijayan was able to take so many stunning photos of them, capturing them in all their glory.
While Malabar giant squirrels may look more like a character from a colorful cereal box than an animal who actually exists, they are indeed very real, and are an incredible reminder of all the beauty and wonder that exist in the wild.