This story appears in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.
In a southern Indian forest, an amateur photographer spied a multicolored rodent. The pictures he took set the internet alight last April, and no wonder: Indian giant squirrels can weigh four pounds and stretch three feet from tail to snout—half again (at least) the size of most European and North American squirrels. Unlike those northern nibblers, these behemoths forage in the tropical canopy, where their flexible feet and ankles allow them to leap 20 feet from branch to branch.
The vibrant fur may provide camouflage “in the mosaic of shade and sun flecks where these arboreal giants thrive,” says John Koprowski, author of Squirrels of the World. Or, says evolutionary biologist Dana Krempels, “there could be an evolutionary ‘tightrope’ that the squirrels must walk”—bright enough for other giant squirrels to spot, but not so bright that predators notice. —Jeremy Berlin
Hip-hop makes cheese funky
Swiss researchers exposed wheels of Emmentaler to different genres of music. Six months later they did a taste test. The wheel with the strongest aroma and flavor was the one that had “listened” to A Tribe Called Quest. A jury of culinary experts confirmed the investigators’ conclusions. —JB
Why warriors wielded human bones
New Guinean men once warred with daggers made from cassowary—or human—bones. Anthropologist Nathaniel Dominy tested the strength of both types of weapon. He likens the bird-bone dagger (left) to a Timex watch: “It works just as well, but if it breaks, then it is easy to replace.” Daggers crafted from human femurs “are a bit like a Rolex watch—a prestige object and status symbol that one would rather not damage.” —JB