Every college campus has them. They follow students to class. They hang around The Union. It seems that squirrels are addicted to college campuses, but it goes both ways. Students are also obsessed with the squirrels.
Students will freak out when they see a squirrel on campus and then proceed to chase it. A number of students have taken their fascination to social media sites. This includes Yik Yak, Twitter and Snapchat — all popular, widely-used applications.
South Dakota State University is no different. Students here seem to have the same obsession as many other nation-wide campuses. But why is that?
Kevy Konynenbelt is one of the many students that are obsessed with the squirrels. Konynbelt is a freshman on campus and she has seen quite a few squirrel-related posts on social media regularly.
“I would say every two days, or every day—at least once a week I see it on social media,” Konynenbelt said.
Around a “couple hundred” of the fox squirrels, red squirrels with bushy tails, reside on campus according to Charles Dieter, a professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management and a researcher on squirrels in South Dakota. And they seem to come out of nowhere according to Caitlyn Ganter, a freshman natural resource law enforcement major.
“I think squirrels are obsessed with SDSU,” Ganter said. “There weren’t any the first week of school, but then the second week they came out of nowhere and it made me really happy.”
But why are students so intrigued by SDSU squirrels? According to Konynenbelt, the squirrels on campus are bigger and friendlier and “would make good pets.”
“It sounds ridiculous, but the squirrels here are so full of joy and resilient,” Konynenbelt said. “They’re so friendly and on a college campus, where students are stressed and unsure of the future, the happiness they bring gives a sense of security. They’re like an unofficial mascot uniting everyone.”
Even sophomore Cassius Pond, an agronomy major, admitted that the squirrels are a good source of entertainment.
“They’re fun to watch and chase—I try to catch one and corner it,” Pond said. “I haven’t been successful though, but it’s on my SDSU bucket list.”
Students throughout campus reveal their squirrel fascinations through social media posts. A number of Yik Yak posts about the furry creatures pop up each week. Last academic year there was even a series of Gossip Squirrel posts on Yik Yak. There is also a Twitter page dedicated to campus squirrels, SDSUSquirrel, still up and running with the occasional tweet.
It’s not just SDSU that is obsessed with squirrels. The Huffington Post listed the top-10 schools most obsessed with squirrels in an article in 2013. SDSU did not make the cut, but schools such as Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Luther College did. SDSU’s obsession with campus squirrels pales in comparison to these squirrel-crazed institutions.
Augustana University is no different according to Abby Schulte, a sophomore nursing major at AU. She believes the reason students across the nation might be so obsessed with campus squirrels is because it’s the animal students encounter most often.
Although this might ring true for a majority of campuses, students at the University of South Dakota choose instead to obsess over “Verm cats.” The city has a number of cats wandering around its streets and across the university, and so the presence of the cats outweighs the common fascination of squirrels.
Chelsy Hoffman, a freshman medical laboratory science and pre-medicine major at USD, said students are obsessed with the “Verm cats” because they’re more rare than the squirrels and are unique to Vermillion. But USD still has a fascination with their squirrels.
“We have a slight fascination with squirrels too because you can get really close to them and they won’t run away, but I think we have more of an obsession with ‘Verm cats,’” Hoffman said.
Augustana made the list of schools worth mentioning. According to Schulte, students at the university are obsessed with its campus squirrels, but not because they’re cute and friendly.
“They’re evil,” Schulte said. “They’ll chase a student across campus if they have food in their hand, and they’re not scared of you at all.”
Schulte said the Augustana squirrels are much larger than usual and are “merging on beaver size.” She attributes their size to their diet.
“They’re very well-fed at Augie,” she said. Schulte recalled seeing one of the squirrels carry a full-sized bagel across campus. She was also chased by a squirrel in another instance involving a pumpkin bar. The bar was left to fend for itself.
WHAT MAKES OUR CAMPUS SQUIRRELS DIFFERENT?
Most students acknowledge that campus squirrels are different from regular squirrels. Emma Peschong, a second-year pharmacy major, said the squirrels at SDSU aren’t afraid of people when they come near them.
“I’m scared of squirrels [at SDSU]. They don’t move when you walk by. They just hang out there and they like people too much,” Peschong said.
The reason campus squirrels are more domesticated than regular squirrels is because of their association with humans more often than other squirrels. Campus squirrels are safe from being hunted by predators like hawks and owls according to Dieter.
Ganter said that in addition to little-to-no predators around the area, there aren’t many busy streets around, grassland and good tree coverage are open to the squirrels and there are scraps of food around campus for them to scavenge.
For students wanting to find the most squirrels on campus, Dieter suggested areas with large amounts of deciduous trees, especially maple and oak trees. These are the “squirrel hotspots.”
“If I was a squirrel,” Ganter said, “I would live here.”