Apr 1

Photographic evidence has ended speculation regarding the validity of reported recent sightings of a squirrel-like rabbit in the Forest of Dean, England.

Photograph of a squabbit in the Forest of Dean

Currently the only known photograph of the potentially new mammal species nicknamed the ‘squabbit’ © E. Walsh

Scientists have confirmed the existence of an unidentified but potentially new mammal species in the Forest of Dean, England. Reported sightings of a strange-looking grey squirrel over the past three months have raised nothing more than eyebrows. However, recent photographic evidence and further sightings have put an end to speculation, confirming the existence of a small rodent-like mammal that indeed somewhat resembles both the grey squirrel and the European rabbit.

Affectionately dubbed the ‘squabbit’, this new zoological discovery is stumping scientists as to which species it is more closely related; the grey squirrel is a rodent, whereas the European rabbit is a lagomorph. Its bizarre appearance has led the scientists to believe that it may well be a type of arboreal rabbit. The discovery of a new mammal species in the UK is extremely rare, and the case is being treated with extreme caution. However, should the squabbit be formally described as a new species, this would be one of the most significant scientific discoveries for Britain this century.

Squabbit scat sample

Scat sample of the potential new species collected for DNA analysis © E. Cureuil

Slightly larger than the grey squirrel, the squabbit has predominantly grey fur which is a lighter reddish-brown between the ears and at the back of the neck. It has the long, bushy tail characteristic of the grey squirrel, thought to aide its balance when climbing trees, but larger, rounded paws more similar to those of a rabbit. Indeed, the paws of this species are presenting somewhat of a mystery, as the shape would lead scientists to assume that it is a ground-dwelling rather than tree-dwelling species. Surprisingly, however, the majority of reports of the squabbit have described its nimble climbing behaviour and ease of movement among the treetops. The most unusual feature setting this species apart from grey squirrels is its long, rabbit-like ears that are held upright above its head.

Edouard Cureuil, Professor of Rodent Evolution and Ecology at the Université Thierry Lodé, Paris, commented, “Although there is a possibility of genetic mutation within the grey squirrel population, the morphological differences appear too great to attribute to mutation…initial thoughts are that it represents an entirely new species that has somehow, until now, evaded the human eye.”

Grey squirrel with hazelnut in mouth

The squabbit is believed to have a similar diet to the grey squirrel, feeding on acorns, nuts and seeds, among other things.

The fact that the squabbit has so far avoided detection leads scientists to speculate that the species is predominantly nocturnal, and that Britain’s currently unpredictable climate may have disrupted its behaviour. It is thought to have a diet similar to that of the grey squirrel, feeding primarily on acorns, nuts and seeds, although it has also been observed grazing on grass at the foot of trees. Further studies should confirm whether this species builds burrows underground or nests in trees.

Several theories on the arboreal tendencies of the squabbit have been discussed, the most popular being an adaptation response to predation risks from wild boar and the many birds of prey present in the Forest of Dean. Camera traps have been deployed throughout the small area in which the squabbit occurs, and it is hoped that they will enable scientists to gain further insight into the behaviour of this bizarre new species. Scat samples have also been collected for DNA analysis which should shed some light on the unclear ancestry of the squabbit.

If confirmed as a new species, the squabbit will be a major new addition to Britain’s otherwise well-known fauna, and an exciting step for the world of species discovery.

Explore more newly discovered species on ARKive’s newly discovered species topic page.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

  • Michael Flaherty (April 1st, 2013 at 7:30 am):

    Wow, you are saying that based on a photograph people are assuming this is a new species. This looks very much like some sort of sterile cross. Would not real biological work be required to start calling it a new species. Estimates are as high as 1/4 of all named species being duplicates of known species. You would think somebody reporting on biology would be aware of this common mistake.

  • Amy Prendergast (April 1st, 2013 at 9:01 am):

    April Fools! =P

  • wendy (April 1st, 2013 at 9:26 am):

    April fools..

  • Arnis Dzedins (April 1st, 2013 at 9:37 am):

    Good April fools joke!

  • Kira Leeon (April 1st, 2013 at 9:37 am):

    This is very funny. April fool to you too! I like it. I wish there were Squabbits- I’d buy one.

  • Susan Sharma (April 1st, 2013 at 9:43 am):

    Evolution is still happening!

  • Matthew Skellett (April 1st, 2013 at 9:50 am):

    sounds like a April fools day story to me :-)

  • kelly winter (April 1st, 2013 at 9:51 am):

    Happy April Fools ;-)

  • Frank Newman (April 1st, 2013 at 9:55 am):

    Hilarious! Just look at the dateline!

  • Niall Benvie (April 1st, 2013 at 9:57 am):

    What an astonishing cooincidence. Just last week, in a remote area of ancient hazel forest in Sutherland, I photographed a small rodent with the tail of a rabbit but head and body colour looking more like a red squirrel. I’ve dubbed in the “rabbil” and am preparing the images and notes for critical evaluation.

  • Hank Vandepol (April 1st, 2013 at 10:01 am):

    Today is the 1st April A nice Joke !!

  • angela gottschalk (April 1st, 2013 at 10:05 am):

    April Fool Monsiur Ecureuil !!!!

  • Doug Norris (April 1st, 2013 at 10:08 am):

    Sorry to be a sceptic. The animals in the two photos don’t (to me) appear to be the same species. The individual in the top photo has big ears compared to that shown in the bottom photo. Unfortunately, the top photo doesn’t show the point at which the tail joins the body – I just hope that this is not a photo-shop creation of a rabbit with a squirrel tail added.

    The bottom picture looks like a Grey Squirrel to me.

    I sincerely hope to be proved wrong and that this doesn’t turn out to be an April the 1st joke.

  • Doug Norris (April 1st, 2013 at 10:11 am):

    An April fool’s joke? Yes? No?

  • Ailsa (April 1st, 2013 at 10:14 am):

    Hilarious, happy April 1st :)

  • Francis Vaz (April 1st, 2013 at 10:15 am):

    What an interesting discoveryand a funny coïncidence! in french a Squirrel in french:écureuil.E.Cureil is he related to the species?

  • Paul (April 1st, 2013 at 10:19 am):

    April 1st has nothing to do with this report of course.

  • Alan Hardwick (April 1st, 2013 at 10:21 am):

    Fantastic discovery. I have been seeing something similar here on the banks of the Findhorn here in the Monoliaths but the tails have more of a red brindled colouration – almost tartan like. Suggest that this poss sub-species be called hop-scotchii.

  • Higgs Wood (April 1st, 2013 at 10:22 am):

    Is it April 1st by chance?

  • Doug Norris (April 1st, 2013 at 10:22 am):

    To answer my question: An April fool’s joke? Yes.
    Suggestion: Put bunny ears on the squirrel!

  • Francis Vaz (April 1st, 2013 at 10:24 am):

    i meant to spell correctly Mr. E.Cureuil’s name. Almost too funny to be true! In french squirrel is “écureuil”.A weird coincïdence,no?

  • Doug Norris (April 1st, 2013 at 10:25 am):

    The addition of the droppings is a nice touch!

  • Michael Klunzinger (April 1st, 2013 at 10:28 am):

    Dear archive, I am not very happy about the obvious fake “new species”. It was my understanding that your organisation was to document legitimate cases of threatened species and the documentation of the “squabbit” is an insult to the scientific community. Species conservation is a serious problem and it is my opinion that what you have done is inappropriate propaganda that does not fit with the objectives of your organisation. This “squabbit” posting undermines our integrity as serious conservation biologists and this type of posting is no different than a National Enquirer tabloid headline about the “Bat Boy” or “Lizard Girl”….absolutely absurd! Please do not do this again if you hope to receive positive feedback and input from serious scientists such as myself. You might think it is a funny joke for April Fools Day and some scientists may see the humour, but the general public may not know the difference. If ARKive is going to this sort of measure to get donations, I will publicly denounce the organisation and give reason for doing so. I suggest you take down this posting if not legitimate and offer an appology to the scientific community for a false documentation.

  • Hilary Sellars (April 1st, 2013 at 10:30 am):

    April Fool!!

  • Vikram (April 1st, 2013 at 10:47 am):

    What an unlikely place for reporting of a new species!
    One can imagine what the nights in the tropics behold..

  • Bisan (April 1st, 2013 at 10:52 am):

    Where can we get the full report about this discovery?

  • Yap Lip Kee (April 1st, 2013 at 10:52 am):

    It is strange that the news comes out on the 1st. of April. Good try

  • Patrick BAILLY (April 1st, 2013 at 10:53 am):

    Merry April Fool, thank you.

  • Ed Penfold (April 1st, 2013 at 10:57 am):

    amazing news considering it’s april the first !

  • RyukyuMike (April 1st, 2013 at 11:00 am):

    This isn’t an April Fool gag, I’m hoping. Spread the word through social networks, for you.

  • Susan (April 1st, 2013 at 11:16 am):

    It sounds like an April fool’s joke to me!

  • Anne Nason (April 1st, 2013 at 11:23 am):

    April Fool!

  • cloggy (April 1st, 2013 at 11:54 am):

    01-04-2013

  • S. Rothbard (April 1st, 2013 at 12:08 pm):

    Exciting !!!

  • monet (April 1st, 2013 at 12:12 pm):

    Whats todays date ? Hmmm lol

  • Doug Norris (April 1st, 2013 at 12:13 pm):

    Question:
    Were the “scat” samples collected from a bull?
    OK! I’ll stop now. Thanks for the entertainment.

  • FANCHETTE (April 1st, 2013 at 12:21 pm):

    april fool ?

  • slywlf (April 1st, 2013 at 12:22 pm):

    What a cute critter! ♥ Happy April Fool’s Day to you too ;-)

  • hopper (April 1st, 2013 at 12:47 pm):

    gotta love april fools :-P

  • Bob Edenhofer (April 1st, 2013 at 12:50 pm):

    Is this the first April fools joke?

  • Cathy (April 1st, 2013 at 12:56 pm):

    This HAS to be an April Fools joke, right…? :)

  • Lin (April 1st, 2013 at 1:00 pm):

    HAHAHAHA! Good one! April Fools! :-)

  • Shark (April 1st, 2013 at 1:23 pm):

    1st April … :-)

  • Alan Skyrme (April 1st, 2013 at 1:26 pm):

    It looks like it has a pouch – could it be a marsupial Squabbit, or Squabaroo?

  • Michele (April 1st, 2013 at 1:32 pm):

    OK…is this an April Fool’s joke?

  • annelise howes (April 1st, 2013 at 1:36 pm):

    Would that be an April’s Fool’s day discovery?

  • Pau; (April 1st, 2013 at 1:43 pm):

    April Fool, to you, too!

  • Richard (April 1st, 2013 at 1:44 pm):

    Obviously a laboratory chimera created by the renowned biologist professor Frank Enstein aided by his assistant P. H. Otoshop

  • David Spratt (April 1st, 2013 at 2:13 pm):

    Happy April 1st!!!

  • Fiona (April 1st, 2013 at 2:30 pm):

    Nearly got me! Hahaha. Scientists do have a sense of humour!

  • Diane (April 1st, 2013 at 2:58 pm):

    April Fool! That’s a good one. Love the pic of the skat!

  • Lee Kinard (April 1st, 2013 at 3:16 pm):

    what a joke.

  • North Lakes Red Squirrel Ranger (April 1st, 2013 at 3:35 pm):

    Great story – made my day!

  • JJDGO (April 1st, 2013 at 4:03 pm):

    HAPPY FOOL’S DAY!!!!!!!!!1

  • Reece (April 1st, 2013 at 4:26 pm):

    1st April already?

  • Robert V. (April 1st, 2013 at 4:27 pm):

    It is April 1st after all.

  • g. Jones (April 1st, 2013 at 4:58 pm):

    Hmmm… and the date of this discovery is…April 1…?

  • g. Jones (April 1st, 2013 at 4:58 pm):

    well done!

  • Mike (April 1st, 2013 at 5:04 pm):

    A nice April Fool’s Day joke! I hope that everyone had a nice Easter and weekend,and they have a great week.

  • moos (April 1st, 2013 at 5:56 pm):

    do you think it is related to the hedgecow, which recently has been discovered in the Netherlands. It appears to be a very bad tempered ungulate, especially when made fun of. Very stiff bristled feel by the way. No pictures available yet, because this species does not like to be approached nor photographed.

  • Keith (April 1st, 2013 at 6:17 pm):

    Hmmm, April Fools Day…….

  • alan light (April 1st, 2013 at 6:25 pm):

    NOT FOOLED!

  • Almost believe anything Bob (April 1st, 2013 at 6:29 pm):

    April Fool, right? Esp. the raisin shaped “scat”

  • David (April 1st, 2013 at 6:52 pm):

    April fools much!!!

  • BERNARD SORRELL (April 1st, 2013 at 7:12 pm):

    I RECKON ITS A SQUAPRIL THE 1ST ONE TO BE SPOTTED

  • Frédérique (April 1st, 2013 at 7:36 pm):

    I sent the Top News of this first of April (!) to everybody….! Bravo, and you know what? I trusted you for few seconds! merci for all you do!

  • Gary Davis (April 1st, 2013 at 7:44 pm):

    April Fool!

  • Rune Midtgaard (April 1st, 2013 at 8:22 pm):

    We have these squabbits in Denmark, too! They hibernate from April 2nd to March 31st the following year! :-)

  • Jenny (April 1st, 2013 at 9:13 pm):

    Squabbit! I love it. Best April 1st item I’ve seen for ages :-))

  • L. Beezley (April 1st, 2013 at 10:01 pm):

    A timely report. Happy April Fool’s Day.

  • Irene (April 2nd, 2013 at 2:46 am):

    I think this is an April Fool Joke :-)

  • Gregg (April 2nd, 2013 at 3:47 am):

    April Fool, right?

  • Sceptic (April 2nd, 2013 at 3:57 am):

    Happy April Fool’s Day

  • ARKive blog ARKive April Fool! - (April 2nd, 2013 at 12:11 pm):

    [...] seems that, in many countries, spring has not yet properly sprung, but we hope that our little April Fools’ joke helped cheer you up! The ARKive team had fun coming up with the ‘squabbit’, which was created [...]

  • Ben Adam (April 2nd, 2013 at 3:06 pm):

    Too funny! Well done, ARKive: Michael Klunzinger (the scientist) is either too funny or too serious to post here, though: (sic) “The general public might not get that it’s a joke”. Funny stuff, though! Thanks, Mike.

  • Hannah 'unhappy' (April 2nd, 2013 at 5:32 pm):

    Nice try……

  • Hannah Lol (April 2nd, 2013 at 5:34 pm):

    nice try…………. but my April fools jokes didn’t work so what have I got to com pain about?

  • Ms. Kelly (April 2nd, 2013 at 9:34 pm):

    not quite as exciting as a jack-alope but cool!!!

  • Barbara Joy (April 3rd, 2013 at 7:40 am):

    I’ve seen a Jackalope in AZ – & a ribbit,cross of a frog & ra bbit

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