Scientists prove vampire squirrels of Borneo have fluffiest tails in the world

Dayak hunters tell terrifying tales about the fluffy-tailed “tufted ground squirrel.” Photo: Rona Dennis  

Vampire squirrels are a thing. You can find them in Borneo. And they sound absolutely terrifying.

Native Dayak hunters in the hilly jungles of Borneo say that these killer rodents stalk their prey, usually small deer called muntjac, from low hanging tree branches. Once a tasty creature foolishly wanders beneath them, they say the squirrels jumps down, rip away at their jugular veins and then feasts on the beast’s internal organs.

That is according to a paper published by Taprobanica, a journal devoted to Asian flora and fauna. Impressively, the lead author on the paper was teenager Emily Mae Meijaard, who attends the British International School in Jakarta. She wrote it with her parents, Erik Meijaard and Rona Anne Dennis, who are both scientists. 

Rheithrosciurus macrotis has a tail 130% as large as its body by volume.  Photo: J. Mathai/ HOSCAP Borneo


In their paper on the innocent sounding “tufted ground squirrel” (scientific name rheithrosciurus macrotis), the trio writes: “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. In villages close to the forest edge there were also accounts of the squirrel killing domestic chickens and eating the heart and liver only.”

To be fair, these are merely stories collected by the scientists who wrote the paper (but from people who have lived in Borneo’s jungles for hundreds of years). No one has been able collect hard evidence of the squirrels’ vampiric predatory powers. 

The hard data that Emily and her parents were able to collect was some of the world’s first high-quality photos and video of the squirrels in their natural habitat, captured with the aid of motion detecting cameras they set up in the jungle.

With this data, Emily was able to analyze the squirrels’ physical features and come to an incredible conclusion: the tufted ground squirrel has the fluffiest tail of any mammal relative to its body size. In fact, its tail is 30% larger in volume than its own body.

Why would nature bestow such an outrageously fluffy tail on the vampire squirrel? Emily’s paper speculates that it might in fact be “an anti-predator mechanism.”

“In flight, the grey tail, which consists mostly of long fur, obscures the actual body of the animal. This could either confuse a predator in pursuit, or if the predator would pounce on the squirrel it would most likely strike at the tail, which would provide a predator with limited hold.” 

While the tales of the tufted ground squirrel’s vampiric killing abilities may be taller than its actual tail, we’re stil going to be extra careful while walking under low hanging branches the next time we’re trekking through the jungles of Borneo.

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