Squirrels belong to the family Sciuridae, which includes hundreds of species. Generally speaking, there are three varieties, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels. After stacking members of each up against one another, we’ve found the ten largest squirrels in the world; take a look!
(But, before we begin, a few notes about the list)
Due to the overwhelming species variety in the family Sciuridae, for this list, we’ve organized the entries by genus and the largest species in those genera. Genus is the classification level above a species. Expanding to the genus level allows the list to touch more broadly upon the wild world of squirrels. Each entry below was calculated using CM for length (including tail).
10. Mountain Ground Squirrel (Up to 57 cm, or 1.87 ft. long) Geosciurus princeps
This large ground squirrel lives in southern Angola and southern Namibia. Like most ground squirrels, the mountain ground is a burrower. They are larger than but often mistaken for cape ground squirrels. Physically, they are covered in short, pale, cinnamon-colored hair, with white around the eyes and along the belly. They have small ears, a thin tail with three black stripes, and live in arid to semi-arid climates.
The mountain ground is the largest of two species in its genus, Geosciurus. Combined with four other genera, they make a tribe of ground squirrels who live in Africa and Asia, burrow, live in open grasslands or savanna, and resemble North American prairie dogs in appearance.
9. Forest Giant Squirrels (Up to 61 cm, or 2 ft. long) Protoxerus stangeri
The forest giant squirrel of the genus Protoxerus is the largest tree squirrel in Africa. Unlike the mountain ground, they have wide and bushy tails, often as long as their bodies. The forest giant is a mostly solitary creature that feeds on fruits and seeds from trees.
Forest giant squirrels typically have short, rigid fur, and the individual hairs have a black base and black tip. Their chests are white, and the underparts are almost hairless, revealing yellowish skin. Like the mountain ground, the forest giant also has small ears. Despite habitat loss, the forest giant is fairly adaptable, and the IUCN lists it as least concern.
8. Kashmir Flying Squirrel (Up to 64 cm, or 2.1 ft. long) Eoglaucomys fimbriatus
Representing the first flying squirrel on our list, the Kashmir is a large, nocturnal squirrel native to Northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Despite their name, flying squirrels don’t actually fly. They glide over long distances by jumping from great heights and extending their arms which have a large, parachute-like flap of skin connecting wrist to ankle. These flaps of skin are called patagium and act as wings, allowing the squirrels to glide for hundreds of feet. Their long tails also help stabilize them mid-glide.
Like the region it’s named after, the Kashmir lives in mountainous terrain dominated by montane forests. They can be found between roughly 6,000 ft. and 11,500 ft in elevation. Despite making its home in one of the most unstable pockets in the world, between two nuclear powers, a disputed territory (Kashmir), and war-torn Afghanistan, the Kashmir flying squirrel does not face many direct threats. Because of its apparent adaptability, it is listed as least concern by the IUCN.
7. Tufted Ground Squirrel (Up to 69.5 cm, or 2.28 ft. long) Rheithrosciurus macrotis
The tufted ground squirrel is the only species in its genus and is actually a tree squirrel. Native to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, a since debunked myth suggested at one time that tufted grounds squirrels were vampiric, hanging from branches to attack the jugulars of unsuspecting deer. The vampire squirrel myth has been widely debunked but was probably proliferated due to the squirrel’s large, grooved incisors.
The tufted ground is a fluffy omnivore with a fluffy tail that likes to eat insects and small invertebrates, unlike the previous entries, which have all been herbivorous. The tufted ground squirrel is a striking chestnut color and has large tufts of hair on its ears. At almost 70 cm long (including its tail, which is often longer than the rest of the body) and weighing up to 4 lbs., it’s not surprising that the large rodent was mistaken for something more potentially sinister. Deforestation is the largest threat to its habitat, and because of its declining range, the tufted ground squirrels are listed as a vulnerable species according to the IUCN.
6. Alberts Squirrel (Up to 83 cm, 2.7 ft. long) Sciurus aberti
Albert’s Squirrel is a tree squirrel native to the Southern Rocky Mountains in the US and Northern Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico. Similar to fox squirrels in taxonomy but able to grow bigger, Albert’s squirrels are the largest tree squirrels in North America. Their population is listed as least concern by the IUCN.
Albert’s Squirrels prefer mature ponderosa pine forests, and feed primarily on seeds and cones from the Mexican pinyon and ponderosa pine. Sporting a dark gray coloration, tufted ears, and striking pale underparts, they are fairly identifiable as far as squirrel species go. Another unique identifier in typical Albert’s squirrels is the presence of a rusty brown streak of hair on their backs. Unlike other North American squirrels, Albert’s do not store food.
5. Indian Giant Squirrel (Up to 100 cm, 3.28 ft. long) Ratufa indica
Representing the genus Ratufa as its largest species, the Indian giant squirrel (also known as the Malabar giant squirrel) is a behemoth. Its total length can get up to 100 cm, and it can weigh up to four pounds. The squirrel is endemic to India, with populations distributed along the Western and Eastern Ghats and Satpura mountain range. There are four currently identified subspecies.
The coloration of the Indian giant squirrel is fascinating. Its technicolor two and three tone coat has drawn the attention of National Geographic and the Smithsonian, both of whom published articles within the last few years on the squirrel. In general, the colors represented on the squirrel can be white, cream-colored, tan, rust, reddish-brown, light yellow, maroon, dark brown, or black. The specific coloration depends on the subspecies.
Typical foods for the Indian giant squirrel include fruit, flowers, bark, and seeds. They are an important species for seed dispersal and spend most of their time high in the canopies. When threatened, they have the ability to jump up to 20 feet through the air to escape danger. Predators of the Indian giant squirrel include owls and the Indian Leopard.
4. Laotian flying squirrel (Up to 105 cm, 3.4 ft. long) Biswamoyopterus laoensis
The largest member of the genus Biswamoyopterus (which it shares with the Namdapha flying squirrel); the Laotian flying squirrel was only given species status in 2013. The first specimens of the squirrel were found at a bush market in Laos, meaning it has lived long enough in its environment to be used for human use and consumption. The squirrel has reddish fur with white patches, and its patagium (used as wings when gliding) is an orange color with white underparts.
Due to its recent and limited find, comprehensive knowledge about the species is still incomplete. From the bush market samples recovered, scientists have a better understanding of its size but are lacking observations on its total diet, habitat range, and behavior. Hopefully, with time, more light will be shed on this mysterious and big flying squirrel.
3. Olympic Marmot (Up to 106 cm, 3.48 ft. long) Marmota olympus
Common in many parts of the world, marmots are a large and fascinating genus of ground squirrel. The largest marmot ever recorded belongs to the Olympic marmot variety. The Olympic is an endemic species to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and is the size of a large house-cat. They are the largest ground squirrels in North America and make the top three on our list.
Marmots, in general, can be identified due to their wide heads, stubby legs, and large, bushy tails. Their colors change between species, but the Olympic is generally brown with small white parts. Like other ground squirrels, Marmots are prolific burrowers, often making burrows with multiple chambers, housing multiple members. Marmot species, including the Olympic, Alpine, and Yellow-Bellied, hibernate each winter and are deep sleepers, with their heart rate reducing to a mere three beats per minute. Before hibernation, they will set grass, straw, and hay on the burrow floor as bedding.
2. Western Woolly Flying Squirrel (Up to 114.5 cm, 3.75 ft. long) Eupetaurus cinereus
The western woolly flying squirrel occupies the number two spot on our list and has a size range nearly 10 cm longer than the Olympic Marmot. They live in mountainous terrain in northern Pakistan and northeast India, overlapping with the Kashmir flying squirrel. Research had previously been limited to pelts recovered from the 19th century, but since the 1990’s scientists have successfully caught, observed, and videoed the western woolly in the wild. It was long thought to be the only species in its genus, but recent discoveries in 2021 added two more species. The IUCN lists them as endangered.
The western woolly flying squirrel lives on the slopes of the Himalayas. Its preferred habitat is in caves and along rocky cliffs that are close to coniferous and pine forests. The squirrel is also considered to be the heaviest of all gliding mammals in the world, weighing up to five and a half pounds. Food requirements are still being analyzed, but there is consensus around the pine needle as a central food component of the western woolly’s diet. The fur of the squirrel is thick and long, with a gray coloration and woolly appearance. According to local estimates, there may be between 1 and 3 thousand woollys left in the wild, and their biggest obstacle to species success is habitat fragmentation and human development.
1. Red and White flying squirrel (Up to 119cm, 3.9 ft. long) Petaurista alborufus
The largest squirrel in the world is the red and white flying squirrel, which has weighed up to 9.5 pounds!
This absolute unit of a squirrel is nearly four feet long (including the tail) and can weigh up to 4.25 lbs. In one rare example, an individual weighed 9.5 lbs.! It has often been called the largest squirrel, although its average weight is surpassed by the western woolly. Its range includes mainland China, where observations are scant, and Taiwan, although there is a case to be made that the Taiwan giant flying squirrel should be its own species. They are prolific enough in their habitats to be viewed as a species of least concern, according to the IUCN.
Like many similar species, the red and white flying squirrel is nocturnal. It feeds primarily on nuts, seeds, leaves, and small insects. Its appearance is striking, with piercing blue eyes, reddish-brown fur with a large straw-colored patch on its lower back, and a straw-colored face with red-brown patches under each eye. The Taiwanese variety does not have red-brown under the eyes and is whiter on its underside. Like all flying squirrels, it doesn’t actually fly but can glide with accuracy over long distances.
(And now for a word of caution)
Keep one thing in mind! More squirrel varieties are being discovered with regularity, and the taxonomic breakdown will change, as evidenced by the inclusion of new squirrel species in 2021. The list above is accurate but may change over time as new discoveries and classifications work their way through the system.
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